Shopping and F***ing, presented Nov. 20-Dec. 6 by Durham, NC-based Manbites Dog Theater Company, is a wickedly funny and shockingly brutal dark comedy written by 37-year-old HIV-positive British playwright Mark Ravenhill (Faust Is Dead and Handbag) and directed for Manbites Dog by Triangle actor/director Jay O'Berski (The Shape of Things). The current cast includes Lissa Brennan, Sarah Erickson, Amit V. Mahtaney, Mike Sacks, and Ryan Welsh.
Set in London in the late 1990s and first performed in October 1996 at the Royal Court theater in London, S&F moved on to London's West End and became a big success. It is an unflinching look at five brazenly amoral twenty-somethings who will literally do anything — sell drugs, sex, even their souls — to survive. Its characters include a rent boy, a recovering heroin addict, and an ecstasy dealer.
Joe Adcock's Seattle Post-Intelligencer review of a previous production of S&F begins with a warning: "Shopping and F---ing ... is obscene. Its torrent of bad words starts with the title and runs freely for two hours. More importantly, English playwright Mark Ravenhill represents people as disposable commodities, to be used and abused as the currents of power, money and whim dictate.
"The drama begins and ends with slasher violence," Adcock reports. "In between there are vigorous simulations of various forms of assault and sex, sickness and substance abuse."
In reviewing an Australian production, Brendan Doyle writes: "No punches are pulled in Ravenhill's portrayal of gay sex, which is presented as being just as violent and exploitative, in a society where money defines all values, as any other human interaction. As Ravenhill says, 'The shopping and the f---ing bleed into each other. Defining yourself as a commodity, not being able to have sex without bringing in the values of consumerism.'"
"Obviously this isn't a play for everyone's tastes," wrote Robert Nesti in Boston's Bay Windows Review. "Ravenhill's intent is to shock, and no doubt many will either be offended or put off by his expressive style. Yet he is a very shrewd and funny writer whose dark sensibilities contain a stinging indictment of a culture where sentimentality and crass commercialism go hand-in-hand. His commentary on Disney's exploitation of primal emotions is alone well worth the price of admission. Perhaps it goes to unnecessary extremes at times... but Ravenhill's clearly a playwright with a genuine voice that speaks to the alienation of today's youth with real spunk and humor."
And LA Weekly claims, "Like the plays of Ravenhill's Royal Court Theatre predecessors Edward Bond and John Osborne, S&F is a reaction to the inexorable march of privatization that's leading England (and a good part of the Western world) forward to the social hierarchy of the 17th century. David Hare's and Caryl Churchill's plays reacted against the social brutalities inflicted by Margaret Thatcher's political and economic agendas, against the growing gulf between the rich and the poor. S&F reflects the Tony Blair era, and it's hard to find much difference. Which partly explains why the play feels a bit like old news."
Manbites Dog Theater Company presents Shopping and F***ing Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 20-22, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 23, at 3;15 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, Nov. 28-29, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 30, at 3:15 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, Dec. 3-6, at 8:15 p.m. in Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $15 Friday-Sunday and $10 Thursday, except pay what you like Dec. 3 ($5 minimum). 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150 [inactive 8/04]. http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/.