'First Day of School'

Raunchy and clever satire of modern mores that's inoffensive enough to please all but the prudish.

Thrilled by actually having some kid-free hours on the “First Day of School,” the central suburban couple in Billy Aronson’s “soccer mom sex farce” mull their options. “We could get out the bikes … See a movie … Try having sex with other people …” Guess which idea wins out. An SF Playhouse hit simultaneously premiered by Philadelphia’s 1819 Prods., this amusing effort should prove popular at regional theaters. It’s a moderately (but not too) raunchy satire of modern mores that’s silly, clever and fundamentally inoffensive enough to please all but the most prudish.

Having successfully deposited their second child in kindergarten, and with work commitments temporarily on hold, David (Bill English) and Susan (Zehra Berkman) don’t know quite what to do with themselves today. Something fun for a change, yes. But what?

The notion of, er, swinging has apparently been discussed before. Yet the bland matter-of-factness with which David and Susan each proceed to hit on other parents in the elementary school parking lot locates “First Day” in a slightly lunatic universe skewing the familiar one of grocery lists and playdates.

Which is not to say their prey react in equally nonchalant fashion.

Amiable Peter (Jackson Davis) sputters through a storm of nervous no-thank-you’s, trying to talk himself past guilt into infidelity. Ultra-perky Kim (Marcia Pizzo) whips herself into even more garrulous frenzies, her moral outrage thinly masking arousal. When she storms off, David simply re-focuses on the next passing mommy, Alice (Stacy Ross). Hitherto considered stand-offish, she’s the one fellow parent quite taken — rather than taken aback — by the blunt come-on.

Thus Peter & Susan & David & Alice — soon joined by Kim, who’s had second thoughts — repair to the inviting couple’s house. Further guest hand-wringing ensues before Afternoon Delights can commence.

Third panel in the intermissionless show takes place five years later, finding the quintet’s “first day” menage now a firm annual tradition a la “Same Time, Next Year.” (It also introduces teenage interlopers whose presence doesn’t quite work.) But the fade suggests sexual liberation might become its own boring trap — cleverly affirming the superior value of monogamy after we’ve had our fill of farcically non-graphic naughtiness.

That safe approach to outrageous themes is both “School’s” commercial trump card and artistic limitation. For all its attractively surreal humor, the play still lands not so far from yesteryear’s dinner-theater sex comedies by Ray Cooney and such, with their solidly middle-class, tittering titillation. Some labored slapstick physicality in Chris Smith’s otherwise nimble SF Playhouse staging underlines that retro ka-boom-cha!

More inspired is the serene absurdism with which these Stepford-generic yuppies chatter on about daycare, homeowner taxes or colonoscopies — hosts and eventually guests barely blinking when the subject turns to three-ways (Susan enthusiastically promotes David’s “multitasking skills” to Kim and Alice) or why cucumbers are best left unrefrigerated.

Credited with the original concept for “Rent,” as well as various one-acts and TV scripts including “Beavis and Butthead,” Aronson has an ear for dialogue at once parodically banal and suggestive. (Though never chat-room frank.) Smith’s cast straddles that mix with aplomb; SF Playhouse a.d. and the production’s able set designer, English is especially funny for his sitcom-dad pleasantness as guileless horndog David. Bree Hylkema’s costumes are also notable for their underplayed social satire.

First Day of School

SF Playhouse, San Francisco; 91 seats; $40 top

Production

An SF Playhouse presentation with William O'Keefe of a play in one act by Billy Aronson. Directed by Chris Smith.

Creative

Set, Bill English; lighting, Cy Eaton; costumes, Bree Hylkema; sound, Matt Stines; props, Seren Helday; choreography, Kimberly Richards. Opened Sept. 26, 2009. Reviewed Oct. 8. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.

Cast

Susan - Zehra Berkman David - Bill English Peter - Jackson Davis Kim - Marcia Pizzo Alice - Stacy Ross Belinda - Torie Laher Jonah - Myles Landberg

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