"Mutt: Let's Talk About Race," currently on stage at Berkeley's Impact Theatre, is reminiscent of the wild, usually improvised, theater presented for the amusement of drama majors and others willing to trade polish for the sort of comedy that is derived from the soul and from a certain creative zaniness.
Playwright Christopher Chen seems to have found a way to bottle this inspirational lightning and put it on stage in a wonderfully crazy, seemingly out-of-control political comedy. It not only stares the race issue in the face, but it manages to throw water balloons at both of America's major political parties in its look at how ethnicity acts as a major factor in politics.
It begins in the highest level of the Republican Party headquarters, where party bigwigs, as they are usually called, try to figure out why they have been such a dud with minorities.
Naturally, they decide to hire a consultant, and select Hanna (Michelle Talgarow), an expert in minority relations. She suggests they find a candidate the party mainstream will consider safe and nonthreatening, someone who is a blend of Asian, American and "other," a candidate with something to appeal to everyone.
Then, like an auto company introducing an exotic, but not too exotic, model, she introduces the perfect candidate: Nick (Matthew Lai) is a congressman, war hero and the perfect ethnic blend.
The Republicans grill the candidate and immediately drop him when he refuses to change his favorite musical act from Milli Vanilli to Jay Z.
So, out of luck with the Republicans, Nick and Hanna shop themselves to the Democrats, who give him carte blanche but suggest he consider changing a number of things -- and when all is said and done, Nick is running as an independent.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have found another perfect candidate in Len (Michael Uy Kelly), an even bigger war hero, whose DNA contains every ethnic group found in the entire world. Essentially, he is the great American melting pot in a well-cut suit.
Lurking in the shadows throughout the process is a series of grisly murders, which brings a sidestory of an investigator (Lawrence Radecker, who plays several roles) interviewing suspects.
Director Evren Odcikin creates a dizzying pace, rolling the scenes so fast that they slam into each other, creating a breathless feel to the piece. Just about all the actors play multiple roles, creating excellent characters who seem wonderfully real and anchoring the wild satire that's evolving around them.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org
'MUTT: LET'S TALK
By Christopher Chen, presented by Impact Theatre in cooperation with Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company
Through: June 8
Where: La Val's
Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley
Running time: 2 hours