Genetic engineering no longer seems so outlandish, yet the residual sci-fi fog hanging over it makes for tricky theatrical treatment: Poker-faced naturalism didn't work for "Twilight of the Golds," while the film "Gattaca" clings to future-fantasy drag. Monika Monika's new play, "The Pharmacist's Daughter," provides no solutions, with bits of halfhearted absurdism fragmenting a work that takes itself way too seriously...... John (Charles Shaw Robinson) is a traveling drug salesman assigned a rural Michigan territory to replace a rep who committed (or so it seems) suicide. He gets a jumbo order from overly friendly, oddly threatening pharmacist Harry (Brian Keith Russell), but in return must spend the evening with Henry's daughter and take a vow not to marry her or take her out of the area.

The tale gets even more bizarre. When John meets the 28-year-old Becky (Lisa Anne Porter), the woman blurts out the explanation for Dad’s overprotectiveness: Her breasts have been genetically engineered to provide milk that “can cure people with crippling illnesses.” One patient dependent on that healing liquid is her own Alzheimer’s-suffering mother (Kimberly Richards).

Love-struck John realizes that past salesmen have “disappeared” — killed by Harry when they tried to take Becky away. Thus begins a road chase, with John and Becky fleeing murderous Dad and disoriented Mom. Also on the trail are government agents seeking the magic mammary elixir.

As silly as this may sound (and the episodes with the president and first lady are pretty silly indeed), “The Pharmacist’s Daughter” grows ever more leaden as the situations turn more and more grotesque. The black comedy fails to click in Jonathan Moscone’s production, and the overall conspiracy scenario is too “X-Files” to shoulder the grim, accusatory weight the playwright intends. The play ends with a wheezing child offering us statistics on emphysema, a note that’s rather beside any already-muddled point.

Actor Niki Botelho makes a brassy, confident impression as a none-too-inconspicuous FBI agent, and Robinson, Soren Oliver (as John’s co-worker) and others are capable talents in bogusly conceived roles; Porter, as Becky, seems rather adrift. While design elements are up to standard, nothing makes much sense of the play’s contrivances, which come off more half-baked than provocative.

The Pharmacist's Daughter

Opened Nov. 18, 1997, at Magic Northside Theater. 154 seats; $21 top.

Production

SAN FRANCISCO A Magic Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Monika Monika. Directed by Jonathan Moscone. Set, Tom Langguth;

Creative

costumes, Meg Neville; lighting, David Cuthbert; sound, Garth Hemphill; stage manager, Anna K. Davis. Artistic director, Mame Hunt. Reviewed Nov. 28; Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Charles Shaw Robinson (John Gorajick), Lisa Anne Porter (Becky Mancuso), Brian Keith Russell (Harry Mancuso/Bill Clinton), Kimberly Richards (Joan Mancuso/Hillary Clinton), Soren Oliver (Cootie Richardson), Niki Botelho (Detective Reid), Nicholas Walker (Child With Emphysema), Juliet Tanner (Jaundiced Girl).
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