at the Annoyance Theatre

Despite its staging at the Annoyance Theatre and its attempts to borrow attitude from Metraform, Annoyance’s brilliantly perverse producers, Bastards! is not a real member of the family. With the single exception of Eric Hoffman’s extraordinarily evil performance, there’s very little here to entertain, annoy, or shock.

Scripted by Hoffman and Michael Monterastelli, with help from the cast, Bastards! tries desperately to be offensive. It showcases a whole collection of blind jokes, and features both its women characters getting beaten up. It wants very much to imitate Metraform’s 78 RPM formula of the surreal and the mundane, but unlike Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack, Manson the Musical, and other tasteless but hilarious productions by Metraform, Bastards! doesn’t meet its own goal–to make us laugh, groan, and generally be amazed by its genius and stupidity.

Instead it plays somewhere in the middle–never quite striking the one genuine odd note that would raise it above its own absurdity, never quite hitting the lunacy or grossness that separate a Metraform show from the rest. Bastards! plays like a frat talent show: basically good boys trying real hard to be bad. Bastards! just isn’t offensive enough for its own good. Instead it’s riddled with cliches and goofy vaudevillian antics, with lots of bat swinging, slapstick violence, bug-eyed horror, even a woman gagged and bound.

An embittered theatrical agent, C.C. Shankar (Hoffman) is trying to off his nemesis, Jerry Lite (Monterastelli), a fumbling, arrogant actor who’s blind, during the production of a murder mystery. Lite ruined Shankar’s last production and caused him to lose everything, so he wants to kill Lite onstage, in front of thousands of unsuspecting theatergoers. To this end Shankar recruits a cast of misfits: Hal Jhilikakik (Jason Lubow) and Pele (Brett Radford), two Chicago improv comics who call themselves My Mother Is Not a Black Man; Henry Krinkle, a tub of a man with a penchant for firearms and a curious resemblance to John Belushi (some things are sacred, though–neither the writers nor director Michael J. Stewart do a thing with this); and in the end Shankar’s own secretary, the neurotic Miss Grimace (Gabriel Sanalitro).

Everything in Bastards! can be seen coming for miles, and as expected Lite inadvertently escapes all the attempts on his life: the poison that’s meant for him is drunk by another; the gun that’s supposed to blow him away gets turned on someone else; the bomb meant to drop on him lands in Shankar’s own hands.

This is comedy by numbers: nothing here is even remotely twisted or offbeat. Once the frat-party atmosphere of the production is established it’s impossible to tell even whether the players are screwing up–because screwing up is also part of the cliche.

Hoffman does triumph as the malevolent Shankar, barely holding in a red-faced, trembling rage always just below the surface, ready to burst out. His pacing is perfect. Bastards! isn’t much now, but without Hoffman it’d be nothing.