In "Geniuses," playwright Jonathan Reynolds reveals Hollywood as a cultural wasteland where the principals traffic in power and sex on the altar of money and ego. That may not come as a startling revelation, nor even a particularly interesting one, but Reynolds handles his shopworn theme with more bite and aplomb than most.
He has a big field of vision just right for broad satire, and a frequently nimble wit. So if "Geniuses" fades out of focus here and there, at least it boasts plenty of yuks. The production at Arena Stage, meanwhile, offers sights and sounds to rival Disneyworld's.
The three-acter is set on location in the Philippine jungle, where Hollywood wunderkind Milo McGee McGarr is shooting "Parabola of Death," an epic on war in Angola. Reynolds, in fact, once trekked to the Philippines to work on Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."
On hand to wait out a film-stopping typhoon -- with McGarr, until the last act, just a godlike voice from a chopper -- are screenwriter Jocko, art director Eugene and his Filipino bodyguard, makeup man Bart and a bubblehead actress named Skye, who speaks Valley Girl and wears a scant bikini.
Holed up in their wicker-filled jungle lair, with little to sustain them but 300 cases of Guinness Stout and the odd dog stew, the characters lob verbal grenades at one another: "Profound chowderhead," Jocko calls Skye, and "the Los Angeles contribution to competitive self-absorption."
Exposing by degrees their respective neuroses -- Eugene hates women and Bart thinks he's Hemingway -- they also chew on some of Hollywood's larger concerns, to wit: "Booze is making a big comeback. They're distressed by its lack of mystique . . . but impressed that you don't go to jail and your nose doesn't come off." The tension alarmingly escalates in act two, and it's left to Milo, in the end, to return and sort things out.
Reynolds has made a play of types, not people. When he tries to make them act like human beings -- trespassing the boundaries of satire into drama -- you can almost hear the stripping of gears. Though the cast is solid, set designer Tony Straiges' typhoon is the best thing in the show. GENIUSES -At Arena Stage through May 1.