“Big Death, Little Death” is funnier than hell. I quit writing down the great lines after a while ‘cause there were too many of them, but here are a few. “Would you eat me if I was dead?” “Everyone has problems. Problems are pretty much all there is.” “You and I -- we are so CREATED.” “Everything’s an accident.” “Maybe everything’s the opposite of what it really is.” “Ideas don’t mean anything, they’re just a bunch of words -- like, things you say.”
And it isn’t just the play’s words; the physical situations are hilarious too: the hug that goes on way too long, the couple fucking in a cardboard box, the dog that fetches a bag of drugs.
If the script, by screenwriter and playwright Mickey Birnbaum, sounds absurd, it isn’t only that. For one thing, he writes with a fine ear to the way people actually talk. And, obsessed with the pain and futility of life, Birnbaum is after nothing less than complete transcendence. “Big Death” reminds me a little of Sam Shepard’s “Angel City” in one way: It proposes the notion that one action -- exactly the correct action -- could flip the entire universe around. What, after all, would be the risk? It might not be any better, but it could hardly be worse.
The improbable agents of change are a typically unhappy American family reunited with Dad (Jeff LeBeau), who has returned shell-shocked and delusional from a military tour of duty in Iraq. His son (Sean Wing) is a directionless pothead. His daughter (Jeanne Syquia) is starving herself to death. His blank wife (Rhonda Aldrich) blurts loud and often about the real-estate agent she screwed. Everyone except the parents is devoted to the rot, dismemberment and hostility of death-metal music.
Having the Slayer-influenced Burbank band Condemption seated to the side and pounding away before, after and during the play -- well, that’s a smart stroke. Their demeanor is low-key, serious and totally cool. They perform with righteous skill and generate a powerful lowdown groove even in the few seconds they’re allotted during changes in Claire Bennett’s ingeniously minimal set. Most interesting, they expose attendees to a legitimate (and suppressed) musical genre that few theatergoers have ever experienced -- and you should see the way the suburbanite audience nod heads and tap toes to what many would have previously considered valueless noise.
One more big bonus is the timing. Under the direction of Larry Biederman, the universally excellent cast (and I’ve mentioned only half) move and speak with an amazing sense of offbeat internal rhythm. Time and again you expect them to do something predictable, and time and again something else happens. The result is a performance without a single boring minute. The conclusion, so simple and true after so much madness, is something you can keep in your heart.
I took my wife and 15-year-old daughter, and they both ate it up. For god’s sake, go, even (especially) if you’re not someone who ever attends the bloody theatah.
5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, Thurs.-Sat. 8pm, Sun. 2pm, with the live band Fri.-Sat. only, thru July 21; $25. (818) 761-8829.