You wouldn't want to see a stage production of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs that left out the gunplay from the movie. So before you walk in to the current Citizens of the Universe production, you'll find a jarful of complimentary earplugs to bring in with you. As COTU's lead guerilla, director James Cartee, tells us, we don't need the protection until Act 2, but when the blood begins flowing in Act 1, it's reassuring to have that protection in your pocket as you anticipate the fireworks to come.
Like last summer's Fight Club, simply attending a COTU operation is an exotic adventure. Earliest arrivals can park in front of Studio 1212, tucked away on that portion of 10th Street that connects Central Avenue and the Innerbelt. Otherwise, a helpful dude with a flashlight guides you to parking spots across the street. Then you must circle around the long warehouse, down a gravelly alley and past an art car that looks like a Nazi nightmare.
Portions of Reservoir Dogs are even more frightful than the car, particularly in Act 2, where gunfire and torture run amok. With some misgivings, Sue and I held our ground in the front row after intermission, emerging unspattered. A sprinkling of cinematic touches, impishly projected on the rear wall by Cartee, provide welcome relief. At any rate, Sue's implantable defibrillator didn't go off.
The bungling multi-colored Reservoir Gang -- including Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Brown, Ms. Blue, a tetchy Mr. Pink, and a profusely bleeding Mr. Orange -- are led by kingpin Joe Cabot, infused with raspy-voiced fire by David Holland. Management support comes from Joe's son, "Nice Guy" Eddie, given an effective layer of privileged superciliousness by Colby Davis.
Joe's slickly planned jewelry heist has gone spectacularly wrong, largely because, as Pink -- the thinker in the group -- has rightly surmised, there's a rat in the gang who has set them up. Even the setup flames out, when somebody sounds the alarm, and we learn that Mr. Blonde has gone berserk. In the ensuing shoot-out, a couple of colors die out of the Reservoir crayon box amid the general carnage. At least one cop has been killed, and another has been kidnapped by Blonde.
Tom Ollis lavishes a gleeful brutality upon Mr. Blonde, reaching an apex of sadism when he begins torturing his kidnap victim – not to find out who the rat is but just for the sheer joy of it. After a brief stint as the Waitress in the opening scene, Brittany Patterson completes her memorable Charlotte debut in frantic, blood-curdling style as Blonde’s victim.
That torture scene sets in motion all the falling dominoes that follow. In the end, as the borderline between good and evil begins to blur, this becomes a story of Mr. White's (Larry) paternal loyalty toward his fallen comrade, Mr. Orange (Freddie). Scott Reynolds ably projects the twisted, combative heroism of White as he becomes more and more invested in Orange's survival. For most of the production's 108-minute length, Orange is in excruciating pain, but Barry Newkirk lives credibly in this narrow, desperate range, his sufferings occasionally the wellspring of cruel, black humor.
Keep your eye on the sly opportunistic Mr. Pink, rendered by Chris Freeman with a nervous watchfulness that belies his coolheadedness under fire. Fight choreography by Kara Wooten, as well as makeup by Amanda Liles and Rebecca Brown, are well above the standards you would expect from a guerilla company scrambling for locations to perform. Set design, such as it is, horseshoes around the audience, so I'd recommend a seat on the innermost stage-left side of the house where the gang is visible at their restaurant table. Sue and I turned around, craned our necks, and caught most of the scene. But if more seats get filled this week as word of mouth spreads, sightlines could be further impaired.
Don't sweat it. Nearly all the action -- and all the blood -- is up front in this fast-paced production.