THE VELVET RUT
Annex Theatre Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th, 728-0933, $7-$12 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. ends Sat., Sept. 15
SOMEWHERE IN the muddle of Annex Theatre's The Velvet Rut, a videographer asks a man who spends his days shooting potatoes through painted scrap metal if he has anything to say to the art world. After a brief pause, the gunner deadpans, "No," then casually destroys another creation. The moment sums up the production itself—it has scruffy potential that never ends up addressing any of its larger meanings.
David Bucci, who wrote the show with some collaboration from director Tricia Ready and her ensemble, has style and does, actually, have something to say. The piece travels all across the States, rooting into the longing, youth-driven art underground that is trying to make a name for itself by any means possible. Moments suggest Bucci's aim: A potentially terrible monologue referencing Peter Gabriel's song "Big Time" becomes a nifty little reflection on how lost our nation's citizens are in the search for something, anything, greater than themselves.
The disparate cast has qualities that could work, too. Sonya Walker is sunny as a desperate "acoustic soul" singer named (perhaps too obviously) America, and Richard LeFebvre, the art gunner, finds a kicky joke in every one of his misfit roles. No one, however, seems much more than an eccentric comic idea. As imaginatively offbeat as many of these people are (LeFebvre has an weird bit as an "experimental home recordist"), they aren't fleshed out as people.
The show's staging and tone are also indeterminate to the point that it's sometimes hard to figure out what's going on, and even more difficult to tell where it's going. The ending doesn't feel like the culmination of everything we've seen before, and Ready doesn't successfully walk the fine line between embracing the quirks and delusions of her characters and simply mocking them for our enjoyment. The evening knocks about at an ironic distance from its supposed concerns.
Unlike the benchmarks for generational discussions of American youth—films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or, closer to the point, Richard Linklater's Slacker—the production doesn't seem to care about its oddballs much beyond their use as a laugh. Even the way characters talk is not woven organically into what's being said; every "dude" or casual utterance of "fuck" seems marked with a highlighter. Something's jangling around inside The Velvet Rut, but, as with its deceptively thick-skinned protagonists, the show is all attitude.