'The Misadventures of Rick the Strangler' Brings Hitmen & Hipsters to Electric Lodge

Brian Peterson's hipsterized organized crime comedy, The Misadventures of Rick the Strangler, is playing at Electric Lodge in Venice. Set in a squalid apartment, the script follows assassin-for-hire Rick and his finger-eating dog through their pursuit of happiness exploits in the underground economy. The work is Peterson's first endeavor as playwright and director for a full-length theatrical work, but he certainly knows how to show his audience a good time through a gratifyingly funny, formulaically perfect happy-ending farce and die-hard pet guardianship.

The cast of actualizes Peterson's comedy of errors well. Jonathan Brooks leads the pleasantly awkward bunch as central character, Rick, a contract killer trying to quit the murder-by-strangulation scene to provide a safe and proper mainstream life for his profoundly loved mutt. Brooks is a satisfying, unpretentious, and thoroughly engaging performer who skillfully anchors the rest of the cast while always remaining funny himself. Irina Costa plays Rick's tragically dim girlfriend, Tina, with over-the-top silliness and carefully gleaned coquettishness. Michael Geary (playing Tina's cop wannabe brother, Duane) and Trip Davis (as meticulously disturbed hitman, Lenny) quickly establish themselves as utterly enjoyable audience favorites through their intriguingly demented humors and vivid intensity. Rhomeyn Johnson has a small but essential role as the energized and boisterous organized crime boss, Mr. Paul. Finally, James Zimmerman is altogether adorable as Rick's anthropomorphic dog, Amos. Zimmerman not only does a great canine impression, but knows how to lay it down with a well-timed monologue performance.

Under the lively direction of Peterson, The Misadventures of Rick the Strangler is balanced, conceptually hearty, and full of surprises. There are a few gimmicky moments that we wish had been left behind in sketch comedy class, but we say so knowing that Peterson's sense of humor is sophisticated enough to stand on its own without cheesy devices. Peterson's overt message that one should truly love and protect beloved pet dogs is heartening, especially give Los Angeles County's atrocious animal control euthanasia track record.

Set design by Peterson, Davis, and Antoine Villaume has a grimy vintage aesthetic that employs clever use of space, color, texture, and smearable piles of chocolate frosting dog poop. Truth be told, you really can't go wrong with a play that casts chocolate frosting as dog poop.

The Misadventures of Rick the Strangler is playing through February 10 at Electric Lodge. Tickets, $25, are available online or via phone at 800-838-3006.