Theater Review

Flirt With the Dark Side In 'Say You Love Satan'

In
In "Say You Love Satan," Bernadette (Candi Baker) is suspicious of the control Jack (Richard Isaacs, right), the son of Satan, exerts over her friend Andrew (J.R. Owens). (By Matthew Randall)

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By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Evil incarnate has a six-pack, shoulders this wide and zero percent body fat."

Or so we're told by Andrew (J.R. Owens), the central character in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's witty and enjoyable, yet shallow play, "Say You Love Satan," showing at Arlington's Dominion Stage.

Andrew, too, is witty but shallow, even as he risks his soul dallying with the dark side. Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't quite know where he wants to take us with this play and pulls his punches. First, we're charmed with a satirically clever, gay romantic romp replete with campy characters. Then Aguirre-Sacasa flirts with a few serious chills before falling back into comedy. It ends up playing like "Who's on Faust," a skit with rapid-fire dialogue that ultimately goes nowhere.

The trip to nowhere is pleasant enough. Andrew is a graduate student hiding out at the laundromat rather than facing his saintly boyfriend, Jerrod (Kevin Eaton), an altruistic and handsome doctor with a trust fund. Jerrod's just too perfect for Andrew, who is full of insecurities. Somewhere between rinse and spin, Andrew meets Jack (Richard Isaacs), with the six-pack and non-carb physique. Oh, and there's that "666" mark barely hidden by his hairline. Within minutes, Jack has his shirt off and maneuvers Andrew into a date, because of course, some people always fall for the bad boy.

Andrew soon realizes that there is something going on behind that devilish smile, but he is so taken by Jack's charisma that he doesn't flee when Jack tells him that he is Satan's son. Here is where another playwright might delve into an explanation of why people knowingly engage in risky, self-destructive behavior. Or why some prefer partners who they know are not good for them. But Aguirre-Sacasa is content to stick with mocking cultural references, self-referential quips and silly plot points that let us coast along happily.

Eventually, matters take a darker turn and unease begins to settle as Andrew's friends see he is in danger of losing his soul. Those friends, whom Andrew has either benignly ignored or treated with callous indifference, are called on to come to his rescue. Then Aguirre-Sacasa abruptly veers back into surface cleverness and abandons the serious stuff, leaving us laughing, perhaps, but unfulfilled by the tense tease.

Director Scott Olson's hand is growing steadier with each production he leads. Here, he has his eight cast members (except for K. Clayton, a silent cadaver) toss out preposterous lines in a matter-of-fact way that makes them seem sharply funny.

Jack: "Guess who."

Andrew: "The anti-Christ's son?"

Jack: "You love saying that, don't you."

Andrew: "It's only been a month. The novelty hasn't worn off yet."

Huge laughs.

The effort is hampered somewhat by uneven performances from the secondary cast members, but the two leads are superb and propel the story line with skill. Owens plays on Andrew's urban intellectual insecurities without quite falling into Woody Allen shtick. He teeters but doesn't tumble. Owens is able to keep us interested in what is, after all, a self-absorbed and feckless guy. Isaacs is brilliant as Jack, oozing charm with just enough steely menace behind the smile to keep us guessing where the story will go. He's tightly coiled, but his movements are graceful. It's a subtle yet striking performance.

Designer Jarret Baker has created a simple but effective series of settings to represent a number of locations for the story, set in Baltimore. He combines realism with slightly surreal visual elements that add to the play's edgy allure. Set pieces move fluidly and enhance the trendy atmosphere, which is also rich with club music.

So would I say I loved "Satan"? No. But I liked it well enough.

"Say You Love Satan," performed by Dominion Stage, shows at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington, at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For tickets or information, call 703-683-0502 or visithttp://www.dominionstage.org.


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