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.