Accidents Will Happen

There’s such a thing as being accident-prone, but when your body is covered with scars from freak incidents like falling on picket fences (and you’re not a stuntman for a living), you’ve got to start looking at something other than chance.  That’s the trouble with Evan in Disassembly, the latest of several plays by Atlanta playwright Steve Yockey to play Impact Theatre (and its first Yockey world premiere all its own, after 2009’s simultaneous premiere of Large Animal Games with Dad’s Garage in Atlanta).

Marissa Keltie, Dina Percia and Seth Thygesen in Disassembly. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

As the play begins, various friends and neighbors show up at the small apartment because Evan’s been wounded again. This time he’s been stabbed in the shoulder while jogging in the park. His fiancée Diane is clearly trying her best to be sympathetic and understanding about it, but she’s clearly having a hard time believing that anyone could be quite that unlucky. Evan’s sister Ellen is particularly nervous and agitated between trying to play the perfect hostess and take care of her brother, to whom she’s maybe a little too attached. There’s a lot of forced politeness and nervous laughter as people grow increasingly uncomfortable with every secret shared by near-strangers. Everyone is trying to be super nice and normal and gracious, but most of them seem to be holding on by a thread.

Anne Kendall’s IKEA-style living room set has an unusual sense of depth for Impact’s tiny pizza-parlor-basement black-box space. Director Desdemona Chiang’s staging is sharp, tightly paced and marvelously well cast. Both Yockey and Chiang are quite familiar with Impact’s pool of actors by now, and the players are so perfectly suited for their parts that if you told me the play was written specifically for them, I’d believe you.

Nick Trengove comes off a bit smarmy as the narrator of the framing sequence (more on that in a moment), but he’s a charming, easygoing Evan, seemingly untroubled by his many mishaps and just wanting to please everyone. Kathryn Zdan’s Ellen is all smiles but unnervingly high-strung, and Marissa Keltie’s Diane manages to be a gracious and considerate hostess while palpably traumatized, worried and resentful at how joined at the hip Evan and his sister are. Andrea Snow is amusingly infuriating as Mirabelle, the snotty, sarcastic neighbor who keeps finding excuses to knock on the door and complain about something. Tim Redmond is a tightly wound, hostile Jerome, who insists he’s Ellen’s boyfriend, although she doesn’t seem to agree.

As chipper as Dina Percia is as Tessa, Ellen’s friend from work, she’s also clearly haunted.  Although she’s a very young woman, she’s been engaged four times, and her fiancés keep dying mysteriously. She tries to be upbeat, but she says she’ll never date again because it’s just not safe. Seth Thygesen is a delight as Stanley, her preppy best friend who’s always tagging along and being supportive and is obviously in love with her even though they’re just friends. The moment when he finally loses his temper is magnificent.

The play is bookended by variants of the classic fable about the fox (Redmond) flattering the crow (Snow), which I guess is natural enough because Yockey’s been working with fables for touring school shows as part of his recent residency at Marin Theatre Company. But this framing sequence feels ill-fitting and extraneous here, the one real false note in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable black comedy.

I’ve seen pretty much every Yockey play produced locally since Impact gave him his Bay Area debut with Cartoon in 2007—Sleepy and Large Animal Games at Impact, Octopus at the Magic and Skin at the Climate—and quite enjoyed most of them, but Disassembly is easily my favorite since Cartoon (which was pretty hard to top). The twists in the story are pretty easy to see coming, but the way they play out is delightfully perverse, with all sorts of troubling revelations and a hilariously brutal brawl. At only 70 minutes without intermission, it’s a tightly packed (and tightly wound) little gem.

Through June 11
La Val’s Subterranean
1834 Euclid St.
Berkeley, CA

Show #46 of 2011, attended May 14.

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