'T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common'

This less concise "blog turned into a play" -- a subtitle that raises the first red flag -- is too cartoonish and inorganically conceived to cohere.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s 2006 “Hunter Gatherers” won local and national playwriting prizes for its Ionesco-meets-“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” mix of absurdism and explosiveness, giddiness and emotional grounding. It was uneven in an occasionally overclever, trying-too-hard way, but the sum was truly bracing. Nachtrieb’s new “T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common” again sports the author’s flair for rimshot dialogue, numerous laughs and inventive performances in Ken Prestininzi’s high-energy production. But this much less concise “blog turned into a play” — a subtitle that raises the first red flag — is too cartoonish and inorganically conceived to cohere.

The unexplained sudden death of her mother has kick-dropped surly, shell-shocked teen “Kid” (Rebecca White) into the one-bedroom San Francisco abode of similarly nameless “Dad” (Michael Shipley). This would be awkward even if she’d actually known of his existence before. But Dad is a gay man who was mum’s childhood friend and was her long-distance sperm donor (via Fed Ex delivery). Mum never contacted him afterward and never told him about their daughter.

As a result, Kid rebuffs Dad’s incessant attempts to bond, being even more prone to mortification, sarcasm and tantrums than the average maladjusted teen.

They live in a cottage behind a house carved into four separately owned apartments. (Title refs “tenancy-in-common,” the building group-purchase method that’s one way around San Francisco’s renter-favoring strictures on condo conversions.) Shut in the bedroom, Kid occupies her time spying on the quartet of “sad lonely perverts” who occupy those main units.

They include graying hippie activist Claudia (Anne Darragh), who smokes pot five times per day, and Sabra (Arwen Anderson), a chirpy new arrival from Boston who breaks into tears at the drop of a hat and is clueless enough to view Dad as a romantic prospect.

The others are Shye (Lance Gardner), a trust-funded wannabe musician who writes endlessly self-pitying songs and appears to have suicidal ideations, and mysterious Terrence (Liam Vincent), a “polyamorous” habitual flasher forever clad in shoes, socks, trenchcoat and nothing else. He is the strangest and sketchiest of these caricatures — and as performed, the most hilarious.

A 21st-century technophile, our juvenile antiheroine at first just blogs about these folk, posts camera-phone snaps and Google-discovered relevant online videos. (This has the somewhat wearing effect of generating many scenes no longer than a text message.)

Then she uses dad’s credit card to install hidden cameras. “I will be the Diane Arbus of this building, these neighbors my retards” she snarks. Such voyeurism eventually leads to evidence of one character’s apparent slaying.

After that occurs, a narrative engine finally revs up in murder-mystery form. But farcical climax basically hits one long “Oh those wacky San Franciscans and their far-left politics” note, adding little real point to an antic but effortful evening. Likewise the characters are too one-dimensional for any dynamic changes to make much impact.

Nonetheless, the cast wrings as much amusement from these figures as they can — which is quite a lot, with Vincent and Darragh particular standouts. With so much frenetic actor business going on, design elements are kept clean and simple, apart from Sara Huddleston’s busy sound design.

T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common

Magic Theater, San Francisco; 160 seats; $40 top

Production

An Encore Theater Company presentation of a play in one act by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Directed by Ken Prestininzi.

Creative

Set, James K. Faerron; lighting, Heather Basarab; costumes, Kaibrina Sky Buck; sound, Sara Huddleston; production stage manager, Angela Nostrand. Opened, reviewed Jan. 5, 2009. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast

Sabra - Arwen Anderson Claudia - Anne Darragh Shye - Lance Gardner Dad - Michael Shipley Terrence - Liam Vincent Kid - Rebecca White
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