Really, it's hard to like "The Altruists."

The Nicky Silver play, which Winding Road Theatre Ensemble opened Friday, is packed with the most unlikable characters.

Very unlikable.

And there's lots of yelling.

And did I mention how unsavory and unlikable the characters are?

Yet ...

The play, directed by Christopher Johnson, is compelling. And disturbing. And funny.

Though this production was not as funny as it could have been - opportunities for the black humor to roar were plentiful, but rarely taken.

Other than that, Johnson has put together a play that's taut and tough.

"The Altruists" is about a group of friends who ostensibly care about the poor, the disenfranchised, the cheated, the abused, etc., etc. Most of them live for protest rallies.

All moves along smoothly until there's a murder in their midst, and they've got to find a fall guy.

Sydney (Shanna Brock) is a narcissistic, pill-popping neurotic soap opera actress with a hefty income. It is she who finances her group of anti-most-things friends not because she believes in the causes, but because she believes it will bring her love.

The play opens with Sydney in a high state of ranting, cursing one minute, cooing the next. It's all directed at the person in the bed next to her - she loves him, she hates him, she loves - oh, you get the idea.

Brock starts at the apex of the rant, which doesn't give her any place to go with it. That may have been a conscious decision - her character is an actress, remember, and highly dramatic. Sydney would have started at the peak. Still, it's exhausting to see and hear.

Silver's writing is vicious and poetic, and the man has a wicked sense of humor.

That was delivered particularly well by Dani Dryer, as Cybil, who calls herself a "political lesbian" - her sexual preference is men, but it isimportant to align with the disenfranchised. Cybil can't remember which rally is next; while she tries to figure that out, she pens breakup letters to her lesbian lover.

Eric Anson is Ethan, the hunk who's loved by Sydney. And Cybil. And a number of other women that he beds before he heads out to his protest rallies. Anson embraced the cad.

Lance (Brad Bultman) is another of the characters who doesn't give a hoot about politics, but he does have a weakness for money. Bultman's turn as the gay hustler was mesmerizing and nerve-racking - he didn't stop moving, reflecting the character's antsiness and drug use.

Evan Werner's Ronald was one of the most vivid characterizations of the night. Ronald is a gay social worker who loves a project, and really, really, really wants to be in love. He is the only character who shows a conscience and a bit of empathy. Just a bit.

Really, this isn't a group of people you want to spend an evening with - unless, of course, you are in the audience while they are on stage.


• What: Winding Road Theater Ensemble's production of "The Altruists."

• By: Nicky Silver.

• Director: Christopher Johnson.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 30.

• Where: The Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre, 330 S. Scott Ave.

• Tickets: $17; discounts available.

• Reservations, information: or 401-3626

• Running time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.