Saddam Hussein might beg to differ, but in playwright Tom Strelich's world, the American military industrial complex has become something of a lumbering dinosaur. His satirical comedy about the U.S. Defense industry, BAFO, begins previews Feb. 25 at Off-Broadway's American Place Theatre.
The show world premiered at South Coast Rep in January, the first work commissioned there for members of its acting company.
In BAFO (an acronym for Best And Final Offer), four veteran employees of a military contractor prepare to present a new government project. The problem: Who needs weapons when there's no threat? Suddenly all these nerdy engineers have become superfluous, and their insular world has left them clueless as to the changing shape (and ethnicity) of the country.
Strelich (pronounced stre'-litch), who began writing plays "on a dare," has written Water Memory, Embarcadero Fugue and Neon Psalms, the latter of which premiered at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Dog Logic, which played Off-Broadway, world-premiered at South Coast Rep in 1988 and was also staged by BAFO director, Martin Benson.
Appearing in BAFO will be Kent Broadhurst, Sam Freed, Beau Gravitte, Jill Marie Lawrence, Thomas Ligon and Christopher Wynkoop. Designing the show are Robert Mitchell (set), Robert Williams (lighting), David Wright (sound) and Gail Cooper-Hecht (costumes). Robert Kalfin, who staged Strider and Happy End on Broadway, directs. Asked if the show had changed any in its New York incarnation, Strelich told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 25), "The Orange County audience got a little up in arms over the language there. I just kinda figure New York audiences won't take umbrage at the "f" word that flows rather liberally in the play. Otherwise, we're making very minor changes. I made most of the revisions while at South Coast Rep. I knew what worked, so everything that didn't work I'd already thrown out."
Though Strelich liked his South Coast cast, he was pleased that for the American Place mounting, he got to sit in on the casting call. "I was commissioned at South Coast Rep, so there I was given a cast, who turned out to be very good. But the people here are closer to the characters I'd originally envisioned."
Continued Strelich, "[BAFO] is a real departure from my earlier plays. It's the first time I've set a play in the world that I work and live in. It's more contemporary, with articulate characters. When you write plays with trailer trash [like Dog Logic], they can be smart, world-smart, but not college smart. Also BAFO is a very black comedy. In my other plays, no one gets killed; no one goes postal."
In an interview with Tom Jacobs of the Santa Barbara News Press (Feb. 1997), Strelich said he takes his cue for dramatic structure from -- no joke -- professional wrestling. "My uncle Steve had an arena in Bakersfield called Strelich Stadium. My dad sold popcorn, and I would open the bags for him. Afterwards I would go into the back part of the gym where the wrestlers were showering and snapping towels... I think my exposure to professional wrestling gave me a real sense of the dramatic. The high drama of it -- good vs. Evil. And the fact the bad guys often won. They had to win often enough to make it worth going back to see the good guys win. I [also appreciated] the pacing of a match. They're really well choreographed. There is the initial clinch; then someone gets thrown. The good guy is almost beat, and then all of a sudden...this reserve of strength comes in, and the bad guy's getting pounded."
For tickets ($37.50) and information on BAFO, opening at the American Place Theatre, March 8 for a run through April 5, call (212) 239-6200,
-- By David Lefkowitz