The blog that ate San Francisco! Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's new play takes on the neighbors. Plus: The best of Sketchfest
REVIEW So I used to live, for a couple of years, around the corner from the Atlas Café in the Mission District. You may know the place. It's nice. I probably went there more than I should have. I certainly don't want to think how much money I sank there. The beetloaf sandwich is excellent. The point is, one day I saw Peter Sinn Nachtrieb there. He's the local playwright with the budding national reputation ever since his very sharp and funny Hunter Gatherers took off a couple of years ago. Very nice guy, too. He was sitting alone at a small table, happily tapping away at his laptop, and we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes no big deal. But now I wonder, looking back and having recently seen his new play, T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common, billed as "a blog turned into a play," just what was that guy doing there? I mean, was he recording me? Was he recording everybody in that café? A year or more has gone by, and it now dawns on me: where does he get his ear for dialogue if not from his ear? And really, have you heard the conversations that take place in Atlas Café?
Even if you haven't, you might go to Nachtrieb's new comedy, which induced this bout of paranoid bloggeria in the first place. It's being presented by Encore Theatre at the Magic, in a fleet, pleasurable production helmed by Ken Prestininzi. See if it doesn't capture for you a certain time and place, specifically a certain here and now. Its lunacy is hilariously and suspiciously spot-on. If Hunter Gatherers was something of an anthropological study of 30-something yuppies in their natural habitat, cast in a penetratingly satirical mode, T.I.C. similarly keen-eyed and consistently witty, if not as tightly focused and psychologically complex places the pith helmet on a surly teen, known simply as the Kid (a winning Rebecca White), who finds herself stranded at the home of her recently deceased mother's sperm donor. The "seed source," as she likes to call him, is a friendly if somewhat lonely mid-age gay man (played solidly and sympathetically by Michael Shipley) who lives in a tenants-in-common complex with a group of everyday San Franciscan weirdos: an aging and grudge-prone hippie (Anne Darragh), a terribly self-important "artist" (Lance Gardner) who makes up terrible songs about his imminent death, an all-too-peppy Boston transplant of possibly sociopathic tendencies (Arwen Anderson), and a cheerful, proudly old-fashioned pervert (Liam Vincent).
Faced with this situation, the Kid takes it upon herself to study and record these creatures ("I will be the Diane Arbus of this building"), armed with laptop, blog, marked-down electronic surveillance equipment, and Google. Very soon she knows everything about them, from their credit ratings to their sordid Internet profiles. And naturally she blogs about it. The play itself begins as a series of blog entries, narrated by the Kid and acted out by her specimens in James K. Faerron's sleek picture- or computer-frame set until, Rear Windowstyle, she thinks she may have stumbled upon a murder, a plot, and generally just a tad more than she wanted to know.
Along the way, Nachtrieb's play opens up several interesting lines of inquiry, including contemporary political restiveness, or the convoluted way information age communication, social isolation, and adolescent angst can all go hand-in-hand. It's delightfully telling the way our teen voyeur instantly retreats into her hoodie any time her trying-too-hard dad comes into the room. But in truth, none of the lines are pursued very far. Nonetheless, the playwright's wit and satirical touch are on fine display, well-served by director Prestininzi's own sense of humor and attention to detail as well as a cast that is uniformly expert and enjoyable though you could also call Liam Vincent's blithely cocksure flasher-sleuth, in the titular and occupationally ambiguous trenchcoat, something of a standout.
T.I.C. TRENCHCOAT IN COMMON
Through Feb 1
Thurs.Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; $10$40
Magic Theatre, bldg D, Fort Mason Center, SF
THE BEST OF THE SKETCH
Prescience is just one of the many virtues of SF Sketchfest, which rolls out bigger and better each January since 2001 as if to say, funny shit is going to happen this year. And damn if it doesn't. Founded by David Owen, Cole Stratton, and Janet Varney, then members of now-defunct sketch comedy group Totally False People, the fest has provided an excellent forum for the best local comedy talent while almost single-handedly putting the Bay Area back up where it belongs among the leading destinations for the country's top comedic acts. Spread out over multiple venues and two fat weeks, Thurs/15Jan. 31, the event presents another embarrassment of riches including "Fernwood Reunion" with Martin Mull and Fred Willard (Jan. 28 at Cobb's); Celebrity Autobiography with Michael McKean, Annette O'Toole, Laraine Newman, and more (Mon/19 at Cobb's); a Bud Cort salute with Cort interviewed and a Harold and Maude screening (Jan. 22 at the Castro Theatre); some not-to-miss local heroes Crisis Hopkins, Kaspar Hauser, W. Kamau Bell, Will Franken (various venues and dates); Wet Hot American Summer midnight screening with in-person appearances by David Wain, Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, and others (Jan. 24 at the Clay Theatre); the State, reunited and onstage for two shows (Jan. 24 at the Eureka Theatre); "Facebook Improv" with Rob Corddry and others (Jan. 23 at the Eureka Theatre); the first "SF Sketchfest Comedy Writing Award" featuring Robert Smigel in conversation with Dana Carvey (Sat/17 at Cobb's), "Scottastrophe!" with Scott Thompson (Sun/18 at the Eureka Theatre); Emo! The Musical (Jan. 21 at the Eureka Theatre); Aziz Ansari (Jan. 23 at the Punch Line, among other dates); and Upright Citizens Brigade with guest monologist Andy Richter (Jan. 30 at the Eureka Theatre). For the complete schedule, go to www.sfsketchfest.com .