February 6, 2004





A prescription for wackiness


Director Matthew Wilder is some kind of genius, the kind who grabs you by the lapels and demands to be reckoned with, every moment of every scene.


Wilder hovers self-consciously between epiphany and fiasco, inspiration and indulgence. Call it sheer theatrical brilliance or mere pretentious twaddle, but you always know you're seeing something; indifference is not an option.


With writer Gil Kofman's gleefully offensive new medical lampoon, "Pharmacopeia: The Most Lamentable Tragedy of William Payne, M.D.," Wilder has less a play than a playground for outsized staging conceits: Ironic musical numbers straight out of Dennis Potter's worst hospital nightmares; found footage and slides projected across translucent scrims (set design by Efren Delgadillo Jr., video design by Jamie Mcelhinney); expressionistic lighting design by Brian J. Lilienthal; sound design, by Ezra Walker and David Baker, that samples everything from composer Bernard Herrmann to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; an aggressive, unsubtle performance style.


Most of his game cast is up to the challenge, particularly Joseph Hulser as Dr. William Payne, the show's loopy, lecherous antihero, who leads a quixotic crusade against cancer from storefront digs in Vegas.


Jessica Ires Morris provides bracing reality checks in two roles.


And as an entirely superfluous but indispensably hilarious mullet- headed yahoo, Declan Galvin is a find. "Pharmacopeia" achieves something close to dialectical clarity; tellingly, Wilder shows refreshing directorial restraint here.

-- Rob Kendt


"Pharmacopeia: The Most Lamentable Tragedy of William Payne, M.D." Shock & Awe Productions at the Evidence Room, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Feb. 22. $20. (310) 869-0977. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.