A curious time warp of sorts takes place during TheatreLAB’s “The Altruists.”
Scrawled onto one of the play’s bedroom set pieces is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, followed by the names of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and others. Juxtapose this with dated references to the Atkins Diet, Bowery prostitutes, and warnings of how rough the recently gentrified Manhattan neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen and Alphabet City are, and you have a possibly confusing situation on your hands.
Specific time period be damned, the un-PC play follows a group of rebels without a clue as they gear up for a political rally and deal with the aftermath of a murder. Jumping from bedroom to bedroom, we’re given a crew of characters each more morally bankrupt than the last.
There’s Sydney (McLean Jesse), an airheaded soap opera star who bankrolls their adventures in activism. Her lover Ethan (Evan Nasteff) is a womanizing liar; her brother Ronald (Chandler Hubbard) is a talky social worker whose savior complex bleeds into his romantic life. Cybil (Morgan Meadows) routinely cheats on her girlfriend with men, even though she claims to still be a lesbian “politically.” The only one with some grasp of morality is Lance (Joshua Gutierrez), a gay prostitute who makes his living on the street.
Director K.B. Saine has whipped her cast into fighting form, and the show bounces to each new scene with near manic energy. The actors are all funny, with Jesse standing out in her solo comedic scenes early in the show. Saine works hard against a script that sometimes feels as though its self-involved characters are talking in monologues even while speaking to each other.
Updated since it opened in 2000 (an activist’s cry of “Free Nelson Mandela!” is countered with news of both his freeing and his death), Nicky Silver’s script goes a bit over the top in its effort to drive home the mean-spirited message that self-interest will always win out.
But even with its flaws, “The Altruists” has the humor and energy to overcome its merely competent script.
TheatreLAB’s “The Altruists” plays through Aug. 8 at The Basement, 300 E. Broad St. For more information, visit theatrelabrva.org or call 505-0558.