Through the Cracks

Who hasn’t wondered what his or her life would be like if, well, everything were different? It’s the sort of reflection that nobody really indulges in when everything’s going well, but that tends to consume one’s mind when one’s life seems to be going nowhere. That certainly describes the siblings in Lauren Yee’s new play Crevice: Liz is a jobless 27-year old Ivy League grad who recently caught her fiancé cheating on her and now never leaves the couch (a strikingly similar situation to that of a character in Kim Rosenstock’s dark comedy Tigers Be Still, but that’s a very different story). Rob, 29, is supposedly an actor but hasn’t worked in years, and both of them are still living with their mom, waiting for something to happen. And something does. Liz and Rob get a taste of what might have been when they slip through a crack in the floor into a parallel world in which their every wish has come true, and that’s not necessarily good news.

Marissa Keltie and Reggie D. White in Crevice. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

Yee is a native San Franciscan in her mid-20s whose 2008 comedy Ching Chong Chinaman was one of the best shows I’ve seen at Impact. (I had much more mixed feelings about her more recent play A Man, His Wife, and His Hat, which AlterTheater premiered last fall, but it was still a fun evening.)  A coproduction with PlayGround, which commissioned the play, Crevice reteams Yee with Impact and CCC director Desdemona Chiang, and that’s definitely good news. The play itself still feels very much like a work in progress, with a lot of cool ideas that aren’t quite developed to a point where they make sense, but it’s so damn funny that it doesn’t give you much chance to fret about what it all means until afterwards.

Alex Friedman’s set completely transforms Impact’s pizzeria-basement space into a quaint suburban living room, with wallpaper and wainscoting, an orange shag carpet and many family photos up on the wall. The earth-shaking events in the play are punctuated by low rumbles from sound designer Colin Trevor (plus some priceless use of Fatboy Slim), and Jax Steager’s lights keenly capture the subtle shifts from one world to the next.  And thanks to costumer Ashley Rogers, everyone in the other world seems to be much better dressed.

Chiang’s brisk and lively staging is often hilarious, largely due to an awfully strong cast of Impact regulars (including rising star prop baby Tamaaron Ishida-White).  Marissa Keltie makes a winning if hapless heroine as Liz, who’s depressed, unmotivated and medicated into passivity, but even so, her sharp intelligence and charisma shine through the haze, and she’s very funny in her worry and wonderment at the strange events all around her. Timothy Redmond’s Rob starts off an irresponsible overgrown kid, and the transformations he undergoes in his curiously successful new life are truly hysterical, especially because he has no idea what exactly it is that he’s so successful at.

Reggie D. White is awfully likeable as Liz’s super-supportive, gentle best friend Christopher, and amusingly hardboiled as his rough-and-tumble mirror-universe version. Laura Jane Bailey is sweetly mild-mannered as the sibs’ preternaturally patient mom, and Jordan Winer is entertainingly perplexing as the unctuous Realtor Kathleen is dating, with a ludicrously broad Canadian accent that belies his professed Texan origin.

Though good for some chuckles early on, the Realtor character is one of the elements that it seems like Yee couldn’t quite figure out what to do with, and he drops out of the play oddly abruptly. Crevice is a play with many delightfully intriguing plot threads that ultimately become loose ends. We never learn anything about what the heck is up with this other world (is it a real place where people live real lives, or all a put-on for their benefit?), who the sinister Stepford duplicates of Rob and Liz are that pop up or what they’re up to (actual mirror-universe counterparts or deranged synthetic duplicates?), or why there’s another strange visitor running around. (I won’t say exactly what kind of visitor, because its primary virtue is surprise.) It’s not at all clear what happens at to whom the end, how it happens, or what if anything it all means. So I can’t imagine that this world premiere run is actually the play’s final version, but there’s so much hilarity in what’s there to make it a thoroughly enjoyable 70 minutes or so, and not one to let fall through the cracks.  If you bring down some pizza and beer from upstairs, all the more so.

Through June 9
La Val’s Subterranean
1834 Euclid St.
Berkeley, CA

Show #43 of 2012, attended May 5.

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