Of paranoia and pregnancy 

Finally, here’s a chance to see Mike Waugh answer nature’s call right onstage. He does this bit of business in Matt Pelfrey’s thriller, An Impending Rupture of the Belly. Being the seasoned pro that he is, Waugh surely shakes the dew off the lily and talks to a man about a horse without fail, and to fine effect, at every performance.

In Belly, Pelfrey intends to scare the living daylights out of you, and director Lance Garrett and his cast do an effective job of just that. This isn’t banal, horror-flick schlock. Everything that’s seen onstage could actually happen — and probably has.

Los Angeles-based Pelfrey sets Belly in an upscale suburb where people like things to be just so. Clay and Terri (Craig Pruitt and Jeni White) expect a baby soon, and he’s noticeably paranoid. He fears the proverbial “it”: terrorism, financial collapse, a “smallpox crop duster flying over Dodger Stadium” — you name it.

Clay confronts Doug (Christopher Robinson), whose dog regularly defecates on the former’s lawn. While trying to decide how to deal with Doug and his pooping pooch, Clay is egged on by his boss (Jason McKelvy) to see a security specialist, where a black-clad Adam (Mason Pain) persuades him to sign a “declaration of war.”

Into this volatile mix comes Ray (Waugh), Clay’s older brother, a dissolute drummer in a rock band. Think of any problem visited upon modern humanity, and Ray has probably been there and done that. When we first see him, he’s going around in a Kiss T-shirt and boxer shorts with his drumsticks sticking out one of his cowboy boots.

This is a satisfying production.

Garrett stages the play with few props and rudimentary lighting by Scott Hynes. Actually, the production would be better off with fewer props.

The final scene, played largely under a strobe light, is difficult to stage convincingly in the confines of the intimate space. But Garrett’s use of sound (which could be even louder) and the cast’s strong acting make the scene credible — even chilling.

Belly is a morality play about the hazards we risk when lying to people. The characters are destructively manipulative, but to Pelfrey’s credit, none is a caricature. In fact, they are so authentic, you might very well meet people like them every time you step out of your house.

In thrillers, it’s fun to be thrown off by plot twists. This play kept me guessing which dark turn it would take next.

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Larry Laneer

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