Hanky Panicky

Let’s get this out of the way first: There is no fantasy club in The Fantasy Club. A lot of the play is about sexual fantasies, but there’s no group of people in it who assemble to discuss them or act them out or anything like that. It’s about a young housewife and mother of two, Frances (an entertainingly conflicted Siobhan Marie Doherty), who’s decided to get back into writing, and she’s decided her new project is to write a whole book of erotic poetry. Nobody’s very supportive about this new “hobby” of hers; her best friend Sam (played by Claire Rice as wry but sluggish and zoned-out) cautions her that she hasn’t a prayer of getting published, and her husband Max (Tavis Kammet as an amiable and oblivious regular schmoe) finds the idea of her publishing something so carnal awfully embarrassing. Also, like her cooking, Frances’s writing stinks.

Tavis Kammet and Claire Rice in The Fantasy Club.

Tavis Kammet and Claire Rice in The Fantasy Club. Photo by Rob Reeves.

But that’s not the real problem.  The problem is that Frances’s poems are all about her sexual fantasies about an old high school classmate, Jacob (Rob Dario, wielding his charm like a battering ram), whom Sam has just happened to run into and invited to Frances’s regular poker night. Having troubles in her own marriage that she avoids talking about, Sam has her eye on Jacob, but the thought of seeing him again after all these years puts Frances in a panic. It’s your classic “be careful what you wish for” scenario.

The Fantasy Club is the second of two back-to-back shows I saw last week that were written, directed, and produced by (and featuring) people who are part of the SF Olympians Festival, which I’m also involved in for the first time this year. Thursday I caught Stuart Bousel’s The Age of Beauty at Exit Theatre via his own No Nude Men Productions, and Friday I saw The Fantasy Club at the nearby Alcove Theater, known for its fine chairs.

The latter is a production of All Terrain Theater, a company started in 2010 by artistic director Tracy Held Potter, who directs the show. It’s the first full-length production by Rachel Bublitz, who recently joined up as All Terrain’s co-artistic director. Both are fellow Olympians, and they’re also the founders of the 31 Days 31 Plays project, which I had the best intentions of participating in this year but had to give up on because I have too many projects to do this month (including writing this review). What’s more, Claire Rice, who performs in the play, is not only an Olympian but is also someone I used to work with at Theatre Bay Area.

Bublitz’s play keeps going back and forth between Frances’s elaborate fantasies—which she rationalizes as okay because her husband is always dead in them—and the “real life” of the play. The fantasy sequences are amusingly florid and soap-operatic, with lots of torrid poses and emoting, but the other scenes are comically exaggerated as well. That said, the pacing was slack on opening night. Some of the scenes dragged on too long, with undramatic pauses that didn’t seem entirely intentional, bringing an allegedly 90-minute show to about two hours.

The actual action eventually becomes nearly as soapy as the daydreams, with a several sudden 180-degree emotional shifts to keep things moving as people flip out promptly and forgive far too easily. But there’s plenty of clever stuff in the play along the way. Pretty much every conversation between Frances and her old crush is exquisitely uncomfortable, as is Sam’s shameless flirting. The fantasy sequences are often quite funny, though it’s not always clear whose fantasy they are or whether some of them aren’t really anyone’s fantasy but are just there to spice up the transitions between scenes. The less-imaginary sex scenes are hilariously awkward in comparison. And there’s a showing-up-at-the-door-with-a-boombox scene that somehow does not involve “In Your Eyes.” Just like an ill-advised hookup, the play is more convincing in its outrageous moments than when it slows down to talk about feelings, but it’s a bit of fun while it lasts.

The Fantasy Club
Through August 11
All Terrain Theater
The Alcove Theater
414 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA

Show #82 of 2013, attended August 2.

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