The human race either sinks or swims. That's evolution as Charles Darwin first saw it. But flippers and a seal pelt, that's pure Kurt Vonnegut. The novelist plays God like no other, wresting the species from its self-destruction, then sending it on its wobbly way with a childlike capacity for invention and a wry if discontented grasp of human folly. That's Galápagos, anyway, his 1985 best-seller in which evolution saves humankind from its big and mischievous brains by sending it back to the sea. And although the transition from page to stage is probably as slippery as that first fin step on dry land, Vonnegut fans (a species unto themselves) will no doubt flock to see the book's adaptation in the world premiere of Galáp, by San Francisco's Boxcar Theatre.
In a year that found the young company variously pitched in the sand at Baker Beach and careening onboard the Mexican Bus's rolling party platform, it hardly surprises one to see the itinerant Boxcar pulling into the Cadillac Building at 1000 Van Ness to occupy the vacated offices of an online shoe company as it brings its inaugural season (aptly titled "Journeys") to a close. And indeed, a better-sounding setting for a play inspired by a Vonnegut story is hard to imagine.
Artistic director Nick A. Olivero wants to make the most of it too. His imaginative, kinetic staging contains continual surprises, aided by the aquatic and exotic atmosphere summoned through Lisa Lutkenhouse's resourceful costumes, Norm Munoz's puppets, and David Sophia Siegel's jaunty original score. The room itself is divided into several stages, more or less enveloping the audience in the play's fractured story line, which looks back one million years through the eyes of a ghost (Josh Truett) at the troubled but pivotal year of 1986 as several hapless tourists aboard "the nature cruise of the century" to Ecuador's Galápagos Islands become the progenitors of the next wave in human evolution.
The six-member cast cycles through a number of characters, sometimes sharing duties in a single role. If the hardworking cast begins to win us over, it also never masters the rigors of the material or Vonnegut's satirical style. Poor sight lines, moreover, make some scenes impossible to view from certain seats. Boxcar's ambitious closer is a mixed bag, in other words, but like Vonnegut's relentless survivors, the company shows it can adapt. (Robert Avila)
Through April 27
Thurs.Sat., 8 p.m., $12$28
AMC Cadillac Bldg.
1000 Van Ness, SF