The surf report on “Surf Report” comes right out of a coast watch broadcast from its first act: “Buzzkill alert: It’s flat as a Brownie troop out there.” Annie Weisman’s critique of Southern Californian mores plays out its themes in the first 20 minutes, then founders in the doldrums of unpleasant attitudinizing and lack of affection. To be more precise, the characters profess affection that doesn’t come across in helmer Lisa Peterson’s La Jolla premiere.
We meet Judith (Linda Gehringer) in the midst of a 17-year battle to balance job and home life, no mean feat given millionaire employer Bruce (Gregory Harrison), an overaged surfer dude whose arrested development has almost achieved petrification. Catching morning waves and buying fine art like the rest of us pick up smoothies, he depends on his personal assistant for every menial life task. Yet she can’t even get an appointment to pitch him an investment idea close to her heart.
Husband Hal (Matthew Arkin) ails and frets after his own business has gone kaput, while daughter Bethany (Zoe Chao) has chased her dream of becoming a visual artist all the way to Gotham, phone calls home alternating between hissed accusations of maternal neglect and resentful pleas for cash.
These clueless, self-absorbed ninnies keep betraying any possibility of their best selves, if they have one, coming to the fore. That’s not even taking into account the rudely cynical mouthings of Bethany’s old high school chum Jena (Liv Rooth), wrenched in for no real purpose but to underscore the Vanity Fair in which the others are all caught up.
Events occur but you can’t really call them plot developments, since no one much connects or changes in their wake.
The chillingly viperish Harrison and affable Arkin acquit themselves well within their roles’ limited conception, but Chao brings the same irked pugnacity to virtually every line. More crucially, Gehringer seems stuck in a mode of motherly exasperation, lacking the variety of emotional levels (and awareness) you’d expect after almost two decades of domesticity and serving the same boss. Peterson’s staging intensifies the dramatic stasis.
What one takes away from “Surf Report” is Rachel Hauck’s striking two-tiered, slate-and-steel playground for Bruce’s whims, a David Hockney vision in aquamarine. It’s a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there.