Obscene, brilliant 'Forty Deuce' will floor you
By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
NEWS ARTS WRITER
To quote virtually any line from Alan Bowne’s “Forty Deuce” in a newspaper would mean running a string of dashes, asterisks or “expletives deleted,” interrupted by an occasional “I,” “you” or “him.”
Which is appropriate, given this sizzler of a play’s bottom-of-the-heap mythos. From its opening moment - when a 42nd Street pimp named Augie (John Michael Manfredi) enters a fleabag hotel room and cuts loose with a matter-of-fact torrent of obscenities - you know “Forty Deuce” (which received its Michigan premiere Thursday night at Performance Network) will wincingly live up to its scandalous reputation.
Even so, Bowne’s 1981 off-Broadway shocker, which scrutinizes a “family” of teen-age male prostitutes, is anything but an exercise in vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. Brilliantly acted by director Annette Madias’ mostly Detroit-based cast, “Forty Deuce” becomes a spectacular evocation of life on the edge, a lower-depths dazzler so ghoulish, hilarious, anguished and in all other respects so madly complex that a review this long can’t remotely do it justice.
Let’s try, anyway. Rudely promoting the notion that humor and heartbreak are mutually sustaining emotions, this blackest of black comedies plays utterly by its own gonzo rules. Conventional morality (“How dare you turn kids into hookers?”) simply doesn’t apply in a universe so trashed and tarnished that its youthful denizens call each other “bitch,” “testicle” and worse, yet sincerely intend such monikers as terms of endearment.
Pimp-master Augie and his flophouse-based brood - among them Ricky (Stan Cahill), Crank (Duncan Hursley), Blow (Rod Moeller) and Mitchell (Jonathan Katz) - face a crisis when a potential sub-teen recruit (Robert Peterson) unexpectedly overdoses in their hotel room’s bed.
Damn, how d’ya get rid of a body, anyhow? Amazingly (and dismayingly), playwright Bowne evokes hushed anguish for this lost, dead lamb even as “Forty Deuce” escalates into the blackest of bedroom farces, offering up a shadowed, how-far-can-you-go seduction of a strait-laced john (Rick Hudson) complete with hysterical efforts at pretending the undies-clad corpse is alive and well. Through it all, our streetwise teens ramble maniacally through profane riffs, lampooning everyone from blacks to Jews to upper-class straights who are secretly gay.
One is absolutely floored by the anything-goes mania of Madias’ gifted and gutsy ensemble in bringing Bowne’s perversities blisteringly to life. Invoking a fast-talking dynamism that whirrs faster and faster as the play sinks deeper and deeper into screwball horror, Madias’ actors lace “Forty Deuce” with the profane rhythm of an obscene comic poem - as when actors Cahill and Moeller whirl like screeching, wisecracking harpies vamping a strung-out client into potential necrophilia. It may be a lousy life, but it’s great theater.
Performance Network presents a play by Alan Bowne.
Annette Madias, director; LeAnne Rogers, assistant director.
Cast includes Stan Cahill, Rick Hudson. Duncan Hursley, Jonathan Kau. John Michael Manfredi. Rod Moeller and Robert Peterson. Performances continue tonight through Sunday. Aug. 28-31 and Sept. 4-7 at Performance Network. 408 W. Washington St. Curtain is 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. 7:30 p.m. Sunday. For ticket information, call 663-0681.