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Forget the flowers

A Valentine's Day charmer 'Shopping and F***ing' isn't

Just as the violent black comedy 'Trainspotting' introduced a shocking new level of intensity to moviegoers in 1996, Mark Ravenhill's play 'Shopping and F***ing' did the same on the London stage.

What's been called a heart attack of a play comes to Triangle Productions, perhaps the most unlikely valentine anybody in Portland will get this year.

It's a frightful tale of people bumping along the bottom of life, taking drugs and violence in stride, but never losing their wit or intelligence. They're shrewd enough to know they're screwed, but they carry on because the alternative is unthinkable.

Is Portland ready for such an uncompromising drama?

'Was it ready for 'Beirut' or 'Bent'?' director Don Horn asks rhetorically. 'This is in the same vein.'

'Shopping and F***ing' is a story of an on-again, off-again love triangle of Mark (Michael Teufel), Lulu (Val Landrum) and Robbie (Chris Murray). The story starts bleakly as Mark goes off to drug rehab, and then gets much worse. Lulu and Robbie mess up a drug deal, and crime kingpin Brian (Joe Healy) demands $3,000 from them in seven days. Can they make it selling phone sex? Meanwhile, Mark has fallen for rent boy Gary (Gabe Carleton-Barnes) whom he meets in rehab.

This is the fourth show Teufel has done for Horn.

'Like 'Trainspotting,' this is a car crash you can't take your eyes off,' he says. 'But it's a wonderful challenge for an actor, very intelligently written and very funny.'

Teufel said the hardest part of playing Mark is being the perpetrator of a lot of the play's violence.

'He doesn't appear capable of these things,' he says, 'and that's what makes him so complex.'

Teufel thinks all the characters are likable, despite the depths to which they sink: 'There's something in each of them the audience can identify with Ñ the people are very real.'

He doesn't see it as a morality play either, though early reviewers in London certainly thought it reflected a morally bankrupt generation.

'I think it's a vignette of the life certain people lead,' he says. 'It doesn't glorify it Ñ it gives a visceral picture. It's a smart play, and smart audiences will like it.'

Landrum is familiar with 'Shopping and F***ing,' having seen it in Chicago, and wonders how Portland audiences will react.

' 'Killer Joe' went over fine, but this is different,' she says, referring to the controversial trailer trash drama produced last year by Artists Repertory Theatre.

She's the only woman in the cast, which, coupled with boldface warnings of '21 and over' requirements for the audience, make it sound as if she's headed for nudity and worse, but Landrum is sanguine about what she's going through.

'It's a really tough show, but fortunately it's a really safe environment,' she says. 'People are really supportive, and you need that security.'

The play gives audiences the same window on a scary world as painter William Hogarth's satirical series, 'The Rake's Progress,' 300 years ago. The moral of the story is distressingly apparent, Landrum says.

'I'd say there's no going back for my character,' she says. 'She witnesses a horrific act, and she's detached from it Ñ then it comes back to slap her in the face. I think she ends up dead in some street as a junkie.'

Both Teufel and Landrum say Ravenhill's writing lifts the story about the darkness of the life it portrays.

'It's brilliant, it's wonderfully written, and it is edgy,' Landrum says.