“Procreation” is stillborn. Justin Tanner’s 20th play is reputedly his most autobiographical, though it would be presumptuous to ascribe the work’s frantic misanthropy and pervasive self-pity to a lack of authorial distance. Whatever the explanation, the farce at the Odyssey remains inert and painfully unfunny, a rare misstep for our wickedest local savager of contemporary mores.
Designer Gary Guidinger’s gloriously messy Southern California living room, a triumph of grim housekeeping, hosts a reunion of the least well-adjusted family since the Sopranos. Four grown siblings, accompanied by spouses and hangers-on, troop in one by one to display their eccentricities (partial list: closeted homosexuality, drugs, bed-wetting, deadly garlic breath) and await the freak show’s next attraction.
Having assigned them quirks, Tanner neglects to attend to their purpose. With nothing to do but complain, these trolls merely occupy space in a curdled modern-day “You Can’t Take It With You” that’s devoid of urgency to keep us involved in how it’ll all work out. Plot developments are set up and just as quickly abandoned, as when precocious adolescent Gavin (Kody Batchelor) eavesdrops on everyone’s horny secrets with the promise of 11th-hour fireworks, except the fuse never gets lit.
Things pick up with the arrival of the birthday girl, superannuated matriarch Ruby (Danielle Kennedy, dolled up in skintight jeans and the giant blond ‘do Lesley Gore used to wear on “Bandstand”). But the announcement that she and young husband Perry (Jonathan Palmer) are going to have a late-life litter of eight — take that, Octomom — causes consternation and calls for a mass abortion, rather than mirth.
Helner David Schweizer works tirelessly to keep the 13 thesps’ wheels in motion, but they’re spinning in place. If the likes of Kennedy, Palmer, Brendan Broms and Chloe Taylor come off best, it’s because they manage to find strong actions to play amid the general lassitude.