April 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
World-weary wares

‘Magnificent Waste’
Through May 8
Factory 449: a theatre collective
Flashpoint’s Mead Theatre Lab
916 G. Street, NW

For its third fully staged offering, Factory 449: a theatre collective is taking on the art world with a production of “Magnificent Waste,” playwright Caridad Svich’s polemic on excess and superficiality in our celebrity-driven culture.

Shock artist Lizzie B is very aggressive, professionally and personally. At her New York opening, she boldly propositions a well-heeled patron named Arden. While not interested in her, he does like the art she’s selling: an installation featuring a slim male in pink briefs and feather boa reclining on a floor of Good and Plenty candy boxes inside a brightly-lit cube. And that’s just fine with Lizzie — she’s happy so long as she’s closing a deal one way or another.

When not hawking her work, Lizzie (played as an anger-fueled survivor by Lisa Hodsoll) spends her off time downing vodka and pills with TV chat show host Bret (likable actor Tony Villa) and Mindy, an aging It girl (Sarah Strasser making her Factory 449 debut). A self-described but ill-defined ménage a trios, the symbiotic trio mostly uses one another to advance careers, score drugs and pass the time, all the while spewing endless babble punctuated by brief flashes of profundity.

On the sly, Lizzie begins a relationship with Arden (played appropriately weird by Stephen F. Schmidt) who collects beautiful-but-disposable things like cheap black lighters and unsettled young men. Initially the pair meets exclusively at a trendy oxygen bar until Arden eventually invites Lizzie to see her installation now in his Park Avenue apartment and have sex. Afterward, zombie-like Arden informs Lizzie that since he doesn’t like women, he entered her as if she were a man. She shoots him a slightly dirty look, but isn’t terribly fazed … most likely it’s nothing the jaded artist hasn’t heard before.

Peopled by unlikable, one-dimensional characters (whom the five-person cast mine with varying degrees of success), Svich’s mercenary New York scene feels familiar. Yes, the selling of an installation featuring a real live boy sparks debate, but the play otherwise retreads frequently travelled territory — soulless New York artists, the cult of celebrity and all that.

Slated to receive the John Aniello Award for outstanding emerging theatre company (along with co-recipient No Rules Theatre Company) at the Helen Hayes Award on Monday, Factory 449’s plays are interestingly staged and “Magnificent Waste” is no exception. Director John Moletress, who’s gay, envisions the intimate Mead Theatre Lab as an art gallery. In fact, when entering the space, audience members are encouraged to move among the art work (Lizzie’s installation and various projected anti-consumerism statements) before taking their seats. And like the collective’s previous works, video design — compliments of Jesse Achtenberg — plays an integral part in this production as well.

As the young man, James T. Majewski ultimately climbs out of his box and vividly relays his story. It seems he was in search of a place to crash when he met Lizzie at an art party. His need to be admired and adored made him an ideal fit for her latest installation; and, of course, cunning Lizzie was more than happy to encourage his longing to transform his life by connecting with the gods through art.  Before the party had even ended, she marked her new find with a Sharpie, rendering him — like everything else in the world Svich depicts — salable.

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