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Buy one of the following Eric Bogosian books from amazon.com:

'The Essential Bogosian: Talk Radio, Drinking in America, Funhouse & Men Inside' (1994)

'Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll' (1990)


Sorry, Wrong Number: Elizabeth Hanly Rice multitasks with Saxon Palmer in 'Humpty Dumpty.'

Only Disconnect

When the power goes out, Eric Bogosian's characters talk up a storm in 'Humpty Dumpty' at SJ Rep

By Michael J. Vaughn

A PLAY LIKE Eric Bogosian's Humpty Dumpty, now receiving its West Coast premiere at San Jose Repertory Theatre, is an especially irritating experience, because the playwright began with a great concept, then botched the execution. The idea is to take a quartet of modern-day "connection addicts"--those whose very lives seem to depend on fax, email and cell--and then watch them fall apart when their precious networks all black out.

The play begins with a mountain retreat for an editor, a novelist, a starlet and a Hollywood producer. And there's problem No. 1: Bogosian didn't even bother venturing outside his circle of friends for occupations. To the average audience member, these are not real people, they're fairy-tale images. Problem No. 2 is Bogosian's sledgehammer touch with a point. Rather than subtly portray our obsessions with consumerism--a Bordeaux wine here, a Serbian goat cheese there--he has screenwriter Troy (Louis Lotorto) go item by item through a grocery bag full of goodies. Novelist Max (Saxon Palmer) pops up every few minutes to offer an oral essay on the general discussion and editor Nicole (Elizabeth Hanly Rice) misses nary an opportunity to correct somebody or spout some trite little quotation.

That's the danger of using flawed characters: there's a thin line between flawed and obnoxious. Bogosian fills his quartet's mouths with every overused culture reference in the book (Deliverance, Omar Khayyám, the "butterfly flaps its wings in China" theory) and then expects us to give a rat's ass once the power grid sends them into dreaded isolation.

There are absolutely brilliant moments that hint at the play's potential. The cell-phone ring-off--three characters angling their bodies for reception while the fourth looks longingly at his phone screen--is just beautiful. Later, as the ominous blackout stretches into weeks, and survival becomes an issue, Nicole takes the wonderfully Darwinian move of inviting the manly caretaker Nat (Andy Murray) to move in with her and husband, Max.

The performances also show some flashes. Rice makes Nicole's freakout session wickedly fun to watch. Murray delivers even the obligatory Deliverance reference with comic agility. And Palmer gives a haunting account of standing in a snowy field, searching the night sky for passing jets. The set, a two-story cabin designed by Douglas Rogers, is spectacular in its size and detail. In the end, though, I would tell Bogosian the same thing Nat tells Max: "You think too much, and you talk a lot!" Perhaps he could hire Nicole to cut this thing down to size.

Humpty Dumpty plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm (with noon show April 2 and 7pm shows April 13 and 20) through April 20 at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $20-$48. (408.367.7255)

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From the April 3-9, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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