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Adventures in Pissing and Moaning 

Predictable politics make this comic-book play go "THUNK!"

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There's nothing wrong with building a play around a comic-book format. We all like those stories, whether we grew up on Superman or Sin City. From the colorfully graphic sound effects ("KAPOW!") to the superhuman traits of their heroes and fiends, comics are like jumper cables for our fantasy lives.

Making an underground comic come to life on stage is the task set forth in Spawn of the Petrolsexuals, a new play by local writer Christopher Johnston now being produced by Convergence-Continuum. Unfortunately, the script has little true comic-book energy, an overabundance of naive political commentary, and an adolescent fascination with scatology, redundancy, and self-indulgent wordplay ("SPLAT!!").

Set in an oil-depleted dystopian world, where mutant "commandoids" rule and "entropy reigns," a group of homeless survivors imagine themselves to be superheroes in pitched battle with the forces of repressive corporate evil. The quartet of supposed protagonists -- Angerboy, Freegirl, Ingen (she's a car mechanic, get it?), and Holyman -- are planning an attack on suburbia, trying to create energy from farts and shit, and breaking into song now and then.

Frankly, the whole post-apocalypse thing has been done to death, and accusing those who live in three-bedroom colonials of being the cause of our problems is totally played out. This sophomoric take on America's ills may feel edgy, but it's actually remarkably passé.

Moreover, the script lacks any fully dimensional characters. Angerboy is played by Geoffrey Hoffman, who does a lot of biceps-flexing and scowling to show how angry he is. ("GRRR!") When he's not screaming "Fuck," he's trying to get in the pants of Freegirl, the purported savior of this rebel tribe, played by Jovana Batkovic with the hollow-eyed look of Lindsay Lohan between rehabs.

Robert J. Williams does what he can with Holyman, mouthing random quasi-religious platitudes and plucking away at a guitar for unnecessary musical interludes. And Lauren B. Smith contributes a spirited reading of her unfocused character, Ingen.

This script also lacks basic writing craft. Although Johnston can put words together in an interesting way -- the title itself is wonderful, and some of the made-up language, such as "I'll send you to scatteration," snaps nicely -- the playwright's clever mind doesn't seem to boast a self-editing function. If he thinks it, he writes it. This results in too much repetition, and every pun that occurs to him -- "You are your own worst enema," "This vehicle is our manifold destiny," etc. -- is spouted, whether or not it makes sense.

There are the other small miseries: A video screen is used in scattershot and largely ineffective ways. There's a tedious talk-show video interlude with God (Wes Shofner), who, it turns out, is male, Caucasian, and sports long white hair and a white robe (how's that for a fresh perspective?). Of course the nasty Darkangel (Lucy Bredeson-Smith), who shows up in another video clip, lives underground and hisses a lot.

Perhaps the year's theatrical low point is reached when Holyman provides some liquid refreshment for his thirsty fellow travelers by pissing in their mouths ("YUM!"). Unpleasant as that is, it's not as curious as a gratuitous homosexual grab-and-grope between a suddenly fey Holyman and Garbage (Arthur Grothe), a mysterious character who appears out of nowhere, does nothing significant, and then is killed off.

On the positive side, the entire Convergence-Continuum crew, under the guidance of director Clyde Simon, puts a lot of energy and imagination into this production. It's their first staging of a local original work, and for that alone they are to be commended. The inventively scruffy costumes by Mitch Domer and evocative set design (Simon, Shofner, and Grothe) aid immensely in establishing the seedy world the playwright has imagined.

There's also a bit of trickery at the beginning of the evening that may fool most people. If the playwright had been able to build on that surprise twist, Spawn might have achieved a unique comic-book sensibility. But by giving in to his political passions, playwright Johnston consistently lapses into didacticism and turns the audience, against its will, into a fairly slow class of fourth-graders.

And if you're wondering about the nasty commandoids -- memorable bad guys, after all, are a staple of all adventure comics -- they only appear once, and their identities and words are muffled inside gas masks. "THUD!"

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