October 17, 2003





Couples in close quarters


"Black comedy" usually refers to darkness in the material, not the race of the artists. Both connotations apply to "The Offering," Gus Edwards' perversely fascinating 1977 play about two couples confined to a small New York apartment. While owing a debt to Pinter, Albee and even Bunuel, Edwards ("Louie & Ophelia") has a curious, acerbic theatrical voice all his own.


Indeed, the originality and unpredictability of Edwards' writing is the best reason to see this imperfect production, the first by NoHo's Riprap Studio Theatre. Director Charles Weldon heads the cast as Big Bob Tyrone, a former grifter now retired to catatonic TV watching and monosyllabic exchanges with his sullen wife, Princess (Sandra Maria Nutt). We never find out what put these two into such a funk; even when visited by glad-handing Martin (Christopher Warren), a former protege in crime, and his Vegas showgirl squeeze (Katia Bokor), Bob and Princess act like zombies.


Or like vampires. Soon the older couple warily awakens to the newcomers, and the game is on. Things twist and turn into absurdities that are nearly implausible but always compelling, and often shockingly funny.


The turns could be a lot sharper. Some of the would-be Pinter-esque pauses feel more like the dead air of soap opera close-ups; some scenes that should simmer to a boil just evaporate. Warren and Nutt share an intense, enigmatic standoff, and Weldon neatly embodies the play's strange appeal as an old-timer who's somehow both funny and frightening, both unsympathetic and utterly watchable.

Rob Kendt


"The Offering," Riprap Entertainment in association with Alumni of the Negro Ensemble Company, Riprap Studio Theatre, 5755 N. Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 7 (no performances Nov. 27-28). $20. (818) 990-7498; after 6 p.m., (818) 763-8345. 2 hours, 10 minutes.