One of the first images beamed back home during the Gulf War was one of the most revealing: a news conference featuring a bunch of Pentagon types standing in front of a video feed of an Iraqi truck driver haplessly driving through a tunnel as a “smart bomb” detonated behind him. The military brass cackled—not just because they got to watch a new toy in action, but also because these supposedly high-precision bombs were proof of America's technological superiority.
These men were firmly in bullshit mode, using this early success story as a foundation for their narrative of the war and its inevitable outcome: America would win a cold, bloodless fight in which our high-tech weapons would cripple Iraq's military and government infrastructure without anyone breaking much of a sweat. Military boasting aside, these smart bombs wound up not being so smart after all; more recent research indicates they inflicted only about 7 percent of the total damage in the war and easily caused as much collateral damage as their less-intelligent corollaries.
But by the time that truth was being weighed, the tales had already been told. And on that level, at any rate, those masters of war were no different than a bunch of disturbed kids with overactive imaginations claiming to have launched a rocket to the moon by stuffing a lit firecracker up a cat's ass.
There's a lot of that same dynamic—the violence, the fevered imagination, the braggadocio—in David Rabe's undeservedly overlooked 1982 black comedy, Goose and Tomtom.
Goose and Tomtom are a couple of young hoods living very small lives with big guns and equally powerful imaginations. And though nearly everything that happens in this play is a recognizable component of the crime-story milieu—kidnappings and beatings, steamy sex and stolen jewels—it's framed as fantasy.
A woman wants to fuck Goose, but the emotionally retarded Goose can't deal with that reality. Instead, he tells Tomtom she's trying to cast a spell on him: if he looks into her eyes, he's going to disappear. Tomtom has a bellyache because he survives on coffee and Scotch, but he can't handle even that meager reality. Instead, he insists, there are worms in his tummy.
And so it goes, every dirty trick or tense situation or reality check from the world outside run through the filter of perverse imaginations and into something far grander. One character breaks a chair over another's head; the stricken character concludes the chair decided to commit suicide. A hardened killer is bound to a chair, facing execution. But what's he upset about? He thinks someone has discovered that he used to be a puppy.
The fantasies reach a crescendo when the jewels stolen from Goose and Tomtom are retrieved by what appears to be a rival gang. But in these guys' fevered imaginations, it's not just a retaliatory strike; the flashlight-wielding hoods are transformed into cloak-wearing mysterious figures, elders of a different race, heralds of an apocalypse.
This is very weird business, constantly playing with the thin lines between illusion and reality and the lies we tell one another and ourselves in order to cope. But it's also very funny. Director Erik Hamme does a stellar job of capturing both the tense vulgarity and raucous humor of Rabe's script. He's helped considerably by Darla Davis' excellent set and evocative lighting design. Both visually accentuate the core of Rabe's play: two street thugs living in a junk-strewn dwelling who are blessed—and cursed—by dark imaginations. Hamme's committed cast—Jeff Kriese's Goose and Slade Lewis' Tomtom—create the uneasy symbiotic nature of two guys who, on the surface, need and like each other but are never far from a choice insult or sock in the face. They embody Harold Pinter's theater of menace, David Mamet's language of repetition. There's even a hint of Our Gang: at one point, when Goose and Tomtom's female accomplice, Lorraine (a skillful Kim Bush), is horsing around with the guys, things feel like a twisted Spanky and deranged Alfalfa vying for Darla's attentions. Let's call it anti-myth: instead of lifting up our species, Goose and Tomtom reveals that what holds each of us down is our own peculiar solipsistic narrative.
Goose and Tomtom by the Garage Theater Co. at the Edison Theater, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 433-8337; email@example.com. Call for exact dates and times. Through Aug. 10. $15.