eye - 11.18.04




Featuring Stephen Najera. Written by Stanley Rutherford. Directed by Rusty Owen. To Nov 28. Tue-Sat 8pm; Thu-Sat 10pm; Sun mat 2pm. $20; Sun mat $15. Alley Theatre Workshop, 12 Ossington. 416-703-9211.

There's a little bit of Sparky Litman in all of us. This is probably not a good thing. Playwright Stanley Rutherford's rabbity, put-upon Everyloser is a clock-tower sniper in the making; a weird, nervous, socially maladjusted little knot of nerves riddled with neuroses, delusions and obsessive-compulsions. He's a cuddly Kafka: hopelessly insane, but adorably so.

Stephen Najera plays Sparky, a Vietnam vet and reformed poet, on a tiny stage empty save for a chair and a telephone. Sparky's recently been turned on to feng shui and hopes surrendering himself to the ancient Chinese Decorating Challenge will bring order to both his living space and his splintered psyche, preferably before tomorrow night. He's throwing a party -- "a wine-and-cheese-and-crackers kinda stand-up thing" -- and has invited a panoply of friends, acquaintances and complete strangers over to have a nice, normal time and celebrate his new-found mental acuity. Oh, and R&B diva extraordinaire Tina Turner will drop by to sing, mingle and nibble canapés. Yup, nice and normal.

Najera's unhinged performance is a darkly comic, claustrophobic sketch of psychological collapse. He twitches, stammers and hops about, careful not to disturb his room's chi, pausing occasionally to smash ants with the violent rage of the pathetic and powerless. Remember the opening scene in Apocalypse Now where a wigged-out Martin Sheen dances around in his underwear, smashing mirrors and smearing himself in his own blood? It's like that, only for 80 minutes.

Sparky's monologue further illustrates the depths to which his battered mind has sunk. A relatively credible tale of unrequited adolescent love transmutes into a bizarre, overlong account of his days as a Cold War spy operating behind enemy lines on the Trans-Siberian railway. The line between memory and fantasy is thinner than an Olsen twin. Regrettably, Sparky is inconsistent, even for a lunatic, and the play's point -- that human beings will go ape without a belief system -- is muddled by sloppy plot transitions. Still, Najera is great and the witty script's existential red meat compensates for its gristle. STEVE ENGLISH