Search and Destroy
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 14, 2010
Howard Korder's Search & Destroy, seen only briefly on Broadway in the early '90s, is getting a deserved revival by the brand-new Strudel Productions at the Kraine Theatre. Under the direction of first-time helmer Nick Meo, the play is revealed to be bracing, timely, and compelling. Compared unfavorably to contemporaneous works by David Mamet when it was first produced, Korder's drama—with its characters driven by an understanding of the power of fear, rather than simply victims of fear—proves almost tragically prescient in an era defined by the huge heartless financial gambles of Ken Lay and his disciples and heirs.
The protagonist of Search & Destroy—"hero" is just not a suitable term—is Martin Mirkheim. Though he seems callow and irresponsible when we first meet him—babbling like a deranged spoiled child about why the concerns of Florida's tax collectors don't matter to him (he owes the state tens of thousands of dollars)—we quickly discover that Martin is a young man with a dream. In broad outline, that dream is wealth and power: Martin is a guy who doesn't just think he's entitled to his slice of the pie, but knows that he is. In its specifics, it's a morphing concept that crystalizes when he meets the man who turns out, in many ways, to be his soulmate, the somewhat shady but horrifyingly self-assured Kim Feston. After a brief conversation with Kim, Martin realizes that the way to his dream is to make a film version of a third-rate novel written by a second-rate self-help guru named Dr. Waxling.
In a succession of taut, increasingly scary scenes, Martin tries to talk his way into Waxling's office to buy the rights to the film, fails, and then sets upon a path to raise the half-a-million dollars Waxling tells him he needs. Martin's journey feels harrowingly like a descent into the circles of hell; what he learns—and waht makes this play feel so chillingly reflective of our collective moment—is that morality counts for nothing in a world driven by greed, money, and power.
Neo's production is highly credible, though the pacing can certainly be improved; in particular, transitions for scene changes take too much time (and I wondered how necessary the detailed setups for each of the play's many locales really are, though Kathryn Kawecki does a lot with a little in terms of creating a world for the story on stage). Bear in mind that I saw the very first public performance of this show.
Kelly Miller anchors the show as Martin, appearing in every scene and on stage virtually every minute of the play. It's a workout of a role, and Miller creates a character whom we can empathize with even as we see whatever we thought we admired in him melt away as the story grows more sour and savage. Errickson Wilcox may be too young to be completely convincing as Feston, but he gets the eerie self-containment exactly right. Among an ensemble of 11 others, playing the many people Martin encounters along his way, standouts include Tina Jensen as Waxling's receptionist, who is perhaps not so naive as she lets on, and Bruce Barton in several roles, including the accountant in the opening scene who tries to impress upon Martin the reasons why he should be paying attention to rules and regulations in our society.
That accountant fails, as too many others seem to have done during the past two decades; Korder wrote Search & Destroy in 1988, and it's a clear-eyed look at the wanton self-interest driving the short-term-thinkers who helped get our country into the economic, political, and ethical mess it's in.