You could credit Bob Fischbach’s review (“Shock factor feels out of place, but message resonates”) for the sold-out house for Shopping and F***ing. But it ran Saturday so that doesn’t explain the full house Friday. Was it the title F-bomb disguised as “Expletive” in the aforementioned daily? Was it the warning about “very explicit sex” or, golly gee, the real possibility that director Randall Stevens had a high-quality cast presenting a serious and substantial play? In my case, it was partly curiosity about the site, the Bancroft Street Market on South 10th Street. No problems there, other than the fact it looks totally dark from the outside, like nobody’s home. Inside, it’s spacious and reasonably comfortable with nice rest rooms and drinking fountains. What happens on stage is much less comfortable for anyone unaccustomed to simulated buggery. Not that it’s new to drama, but maybe it seemed part of something more significant in the award-winning Angels in America. So, yes, there’s the shock factor, but the “explicit sex” doesn’t involve much in the way of nudity other than the jock strap worn by Colin Ferguson as Gary, the teenage prostitute. ( Don’t bother if you’re hoping to add to your collection of stage images of bare breasts or genitalia. If you read that Lulu (Kirstin Kluver) removes her blouse, sorry boys. She reveals only a zebra-striped bra to go with the leopard-print mini-skirt over her tights and striped stockings. Kluver’s costume adds to the persona that helps her provide most of the humor that brightens a dark story. It’s also twisted and brutal. Don’t look for someone to root for, though you might find Eric Grant-Leanna’s Mark the likeliest candidate as the junkie who is “trying to get myself sorted.” Or you might prefer Ferguson’s Gary, who after a putdown of Mark, reveals that he’s only 14, his hard cynicism the product of an abusive step-dad. But it probably doesn’t help you root for Brian (Kelcivious Jones better known earlier as Kelcey Watson) just because he sobs at the beauty of a cello or the story of The Lion King. Not when he threatens Lulu and her roommate Robbie (Brian Zealand) with a hideous fate unless they come up with money, not when he forces them to recite, “Money is civilization” and “civilization is money.” Here’s a quick and soapy summary of how it gets to that point: When Mark goes into rehab and deprives Robbie and Lulu of his financial support, Lulu “auditions” for Brian (yes, the blouse thing) who hires her to peddle E for Ecstasy which she foolishly gives to Robbie who starts popping the pills and then giving them away at a dance and getting beaten in the bargain so they owe Brian 3,000 pounds which they try to repay by performing phone sex. There’s so much more, of course. As I walked past producer Patricia Lilyhorn after the regional premiere of the Mark Ravenhill play ended, a man and woman thanked her for “a wonderful play.” I couldn’t bring myself to call such an ugly, brutal play “wonderful.” But Stevens deserves full credit for bringing distinctive performances to life and his cast offers the possibility of understanding the forces that drive their characters to want what they want from life. As pathetic as their desires may seem at worst, most playgoers should be able to identify with the high cost of their low hopes. So, yes, there is shock value, but I’m not sure what it means to say it’s “out of place.” It certainly doesn’t belong at the Omaha Community Playhouse or in our schools. But it belongs in Omaha, according to the mission statement of Lilyhorn/Martin Productions, which took it over after Andrew McGreevy scheduled it for SkullDuggery, then stepped aside. Lilyhorn/Martin “endeavors to create visceral and provocative theatre experiences for the culturally savvy and those who crave something beyond the standard.” The statement refers to “provoking” and “jolting” audiences. I liked Fischbach’s reference to the play’s “intended squirm factor.” I guess I felt more squirmy than provoked. Make no mistake, I loved it when the Blue Barn challenged audiences with Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” But the challenge from Ravenhill requires tolerance that goes well beyond being “culturally savvy.” Shopping and F***ing runs Jan. 14-23, Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. and Sun. 6 p.m., at Bancroft Street Market, 10th and Bancroft. Tickets are $15, $5 for students w/ id. Age 17 and up only. Call 208.0150.

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