In the Internet age, people are not satisfied with the 15 minutes of fame once promised us all by Andy Warhol. Boo Killebrew’s comedy/drama “They’re Just Like Us” examines the banal desire to be known and approved of by the world — 24/7 — and the accompanying schadenfreude displayed when anyone other than oneself succeeds in a public way. The West Coast premiere at Theater of Note gets a spirited production, with a skillful cast reveling in the solipsistic shallowness of their characters. The play is ultimately uneven, succeeding more in its satiric moments than its serious ones.
Richard (Nicholas S. Williams) decides to break up with character actress Beth (Lisa Clifton) because he feels she loves her fame more than she loves him. She doesn’t agree with his take on things but later finds her genuine grief over his departure to be useful in her acting. Liz (Judith Ann Levitt) wants to be remembered by an old lover, seeking a sort of posthumous fame. Gene (Brad C. Light) is infamous among his group of friends for being somewhat mysterious, Jen (Marja-Lewis Ryan) has a reputation for constantly losing weight and going into rehab, Ann (Gina Garcia Sharp) is adopting an African baby, and Frank (Joel Scher) basks in the reflected glory of his boyfriend, who works on a popular TV show. Mentally challenged Marty (Edward Tournier) just wants rap star Biz (Grace Eboigbe) to show up to his “outer space” birthday party, an event that will bring all of these people together.
Clifton takes a somewhat cliched role and generally makes it work through the force of her performance; Williams’ character is so underwritten that he’s unsuccessful in making it ignite. Ryan is superbly funny as the tightly wound Jen and is particularly strong in a scene in which she relentlessly interrogates one of her friends.
Sharp is just shy of over-the-top as Ann, but amusingly so, doing terrific work in a scene in which Ann covertly tries to check her cell phone while supposedly listening to Frank. Scher excels as Frank, vicariously enjoying his boyfriend’s status, and Light is good as Gene, though the “mystery” of the character never really pays off.
Tournier is excellent as Marty, and Eboigbe is hilarious as the appropriately named Biz. Levitt’s character just doesn’t fit with the rest of the play, so the role isn’t compelling.
Director Elina de Santos gets the best out of most of her cast and cleverly stages a surprise reunion between Beth and Richard, as he approaches and she backs up the length of the set. Killebrew has a flair for sharply observed comedy, but her dramatic moments seem stilted by comparison. Erin Brewster’s collage-of-headshots set is effective for this show, and Hiwa Bourne has fun with the costumes, from Frank’s pink unicorn T-shirt to Biz’s array of stylish outfits.