Torture chamber: Wood and Roth
photo: Joan Marcus

The radioactive element plutonium is named for Pluto, Rome's god of the underworld. But he probably isn't the bushy target evoked by the title of Sam Shepard's latest play, a surprisingly simplistic political cartoon that pits cow-breeding, easily cowed rural Americans against a totalitarian megalith that, when it enters a citizen's home uninvited, proffers American-flag cookies and staple-guns tiny American flags on every wall before unleashing its quasi-magical torture technology. Do megaliths in pursuit of irradiated human guinea pigs pause to put up American-flag refrigerator magnets? Shepard's mix of wry humor with wholesale paranoia is at least piquant. Whether a paranoid political cartoon, even spiced with piquancy, is what we need just now is a different question. Certainly the less identifiable mysterious invaders in earlier Shepard plays had more resonance.

Lou Jacob's speedy, slam-bang production seems to have caught some acting jitters from Shepard's flat-out declaration of helplessness. Randy Quaid as a determinedly dense dairy farmer and Frank Wood as the radioactive escapee carry conviction, but lovely J. Smith-Cameron has to struggle to transpose her urban-sophisticate persona into a skeptical farm wife. And Tim Roth, as the blue-suited emissary from the sinister force, gives a cockeyed, outrageous performance, all splayed body language and shifting accents, that's either appalling or brilliant according to your taste: He suggests a spider monkey with CIA credentials trying to keep up with the combinations in a Bob Fosse routine.

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