Don’t go see Kill Local at the La Jolla Playhouse expecting any warmth or uplift. It’s all strictly business as an awkward moment turns ominous. The play has its moments of fun, if you like your comedy with un-cut cynicism and sprinkles of irony, but any feelgood comes from the sure realization that a headshake and a short walk to the car clears us of all responsibility.
The business is killing people on demand. It’s a small family firm, based locally with no branches, and it specializes in quick and clean. Mom is the brains of the outfit, Sheila is the dreamy trigger person and Abi works the computer as book-keeper and researcher. That’s it. Dad, who never was really part of the staff, is gone, victim of collateral damage. A solid reputation has been established. It’s a living.
But Sheila is chaffing, the mommy track is calling. And there’s something off-kilter in her desire to kill – many times daily – people who are mildly annoying. Thus, when she takes a break to play Bejeweled on her iphone before finishing a job, the desperate victim pleas she usually ignores lead her to…
Well, here the Reviewer’s Code cuts in. This is a play that relies on suspense and surprise, so you’ll hear no more details from me. Suffice to say that all five of the cast-members are eventually in peril and the question becomes who, if anybody, will be standing at the final curtain.
I will say that you’ll lose no bets by being optimistic. Author Mat Smart’s style here is a skeptical fatalism, outwardly as tough as rawhide but in truth vulnerable to even mild doses of humanity. There is much talk but little action about ethical reform. Such pondering could quickly dull the whole enterprise.
So could true, cold efficiency. All the plot variations for this type of story-telling rely ultimately on the failure of somebody to skip all the dialogue and just go ahead with the mission. If you’re gonna kill somebody, just do it.
Of course then, there would be no play. So, here comes the palaver. Even one of the characters remarks on this phenomenon.
Macabre contrast is important in the way Smart approaches his story. Is it too late to change a phoned takeout order based on the deceased’s tip? Buried in concrete, can Siri still hear you? Apparently yoga and Pilates really do help. The play might have room for more such schizoid trivia but the balance is precarious. None of these people are completely likeable or blameless. The interest is in how they each perform under stress and what is the result.
I like the matter-of-fact way Jackson Gay has staged the play, allowing it to amble along without tricks to tighten the tension. The basic concept of the play is – I certainly hope! – absurd but Gay keeps the insanity carefully harnessed. She finds ways to use the mundane as a flavoring to goose the surprises.
Amanda Quaid is tall, cool, distracted and terrifying as Sheila, pondering whither. As Mom the super-resilient survivor, Candy Buckley has a wider range of moods than the younger generation and spreads herself accordingly. Xochitl Romero as the family nerd and Carolyn Braver as an unexpected complication represent generational stereotypes accurately while Matthew Amendt tweaks primordial panics in potential victims everywhere.
Wilson Chin’s set features a traveling act curtain of industrial-strength plastic sheets, just begging to be splattered with gore, which reveals a super-realistic construction site with menace hanging as acrid in the air as the smell of wet cement. Paul Whitaker lights it to project jagged, impersonal indifference. Jessica Ford’s costumes are right off the street.
Kill Local, yet another world premiere for the fearless LJP, opened on a Sunday night during “The Game of Thrones” season, a decision which might have caused grumbling in the era before streaming television. As it is, nothing was really lost and the mood was sustained. Not to put too fine a point on it, Kill Local can be considered as a small slice of GOT, with weapons and outfits from this world, not that one.
(Continues in the Pottier Theatre at UCSD at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 27, 2017.)