Being a student at UC Berkeley, I am all too familiar with how hypocritical and conceited student-activist culture can be. The Altruists, written by Nicky Silver and first performed off-Broadway in 2000, is a critique of the worst aspects of the crazy millennial, left-wing activists and really emphasizes the negative characteristics of their culture in an amusing way. It follows a group of young adults, most of whom are getting ready to go to a protest. The problem is none of them can remember what the protest is about, indicating that they are passionate about protesting but not about whatever is being protested. Meanwhile Sydney (Emily Roos) shoots and kills her friend and needs to find a way to get away with it.
Emily Roos, as Sydney, the non-activist member of the group who is ridiculed for having a job and making money, is wonderful. Her character is pompous and pretentious but also completely bi-polar and crazy and Roos does a first-rate job of highlighting each of these aspects. Particularly when she argues with her brother about having killed a person, she is beautifully melodramatic as she perfectly depicts a character who is a soap-opera actress for good reason. Her acting was superb but I do wish she had sounded a little more natural as she was speaking her lines.
Adam Downs played Sydney’s brother, Ron. Downs’ marvelous performance stole the show. He excellently portrayed the flamboyant, insecure, obsessiveness of his character in the most hilarious way.
The stage was set as three different apartments, each with one bed. Director Brennan Jones and Stage Manager Jeremy Maline were cleverly able to use the lights to hop from scene to scene very quickly and the effect was brilliant. For example, when Ron found out that the “love of his life” was actually a prostitute who demanded money, he clarified over and over again. Then the spotlight moved to a different apartment and a different scene. It returned to find him still clarifying and then left again. The lights allowed the scene to cut out and in in a way usually reserved for television and the speed was phenomenal.
Of course, without Downs’ fantastic characterization, the effect wouldn’t have seemed as hilarious.
Stanley Payne plays a prostitute named Lance, who he tries to save. Payne was great in his role, portraying the confused, drugged out character in a very laid-back kind of way, really taking on the stereotypical “bro” persona. I do wish he had acted a little more confused, weirded-out or disgusted towards the beginning when Ron was obsessively expressing his love.
Caity Brown played Cybil, the most militantly activist, routinely going on rants against all forms of authority, from the mayor and city council, to just men in general. She was very aggressive and forceful which worked well with her character. Additionally, her facial expression appropriately captured her emotion, particularly as she penned her break-up letter to her lover.
Miles Gheesling played Ethan, another one of the activists. He was great at being the non-chalant, relaxed character who shamelessly sleeps around. His character led the charge to vindicate Sydney for earning money and “not caring” about the disenfranchised while he routinely used her money for his own purposes. This irony, the fact that he attacks her for making money but depends on that money, was one of the main themes of the show.
The Altruists is a laugh-out-loud funny window into the flaws of the unthinking activist culture. The cast and crew of the Flying Muskrat Theatre Company, made it an incredibly enjoyable experience. They are hilariously funny and melodramatic and do a superb job of emphasizing the ridiculousness of the characters they portray, making it an excellent production that you won’t want to miss it.
Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.
The Altruists plays through July 18, 2015 at The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company, performing at the James Lee Community Center – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.