For those who prefer not to travel far for their onstage entertainment, and like to avoid any excursions into foreign territory, there are, fortunately, a tremendous number of nearby theater companies. But for those who like experiencing the new and exotic, and don’t mind working a bit to get there, may I suggest a trip to San Francisco, and Faultline Theater Company’s impressively performed light-and-dark comedy “Shiner,” by rising playwright Christian Durso.
The play runs through July 26 at the Tenderloin’s very-cool Pianofight venue, where up to five or six different plays, concerts, or comedy shows might take place on a single evening in one of the venue’s two theater spaces.
Might I suggest a pre-show brew in the lobby, which is actually more like a laidback bar-bistro with a small stage of its own. Don’t worry about missing the play. Each performance is announced five minutes before curtain, summoning theatergoers from their drinks and snack to whichever theater-space their particular show is running in, like an airport announcement that your flight is now boarding.
And speaking of flying, the two-person cast of “Shiner,” Monica Ho and Adam Magill, manage a rather remarkable feat of high-wire actorly daring-do, playing thirteen-year-olds despite being obviously at least ten years older than that. They pull it off, spectacularly at times, capturing in their bodies and faces the doubt-ridden, hormonally amped, molten and morphing psyches of their young, intense, categorically at-risk characters.
Set in Los Angeles in 1994, when the Grunge Rock movement was stirring up the youth of America, Kurt Cobain was still alive, and Nirvana ruled the hearts and minds of a generation of disaffected young people.
In “Shiner,” that generation is represented by Margot, the possibly ADD-affected founder of an afterschool club she’s named the Grunge Rock Underground National Great Escape, which of course spells GRUNGE. To the club of one – evidently no one at school wants to associate much with the hyper-intense Margot – comes the lonely Jake, who knows nothing about Grunge rock, but likes the idea of joining a club, assuming the members – in this case . . . Margot – will have him.
What follows is a remarkable journey that begins with friendship – a friendship built around a mutual sense of isolation and family dysfunction – and quickly moves into something like love, before turning dark and unsettling, sometimes uncomfortably so.
The early scenes in this 80-minute one-act, with the live band Lyon Grove on stage to contribute an appropriate underscore, are full of fun and angsty youthful energy, as our tragically but adorably earnest twosome shout out a spontaneous list of everything that sucks, or co-write a letter to Kurt Cobain informing him of their plan to score tickets to see Nirvana, then jump off the freeway overpass and thus dies happy.
As few don’t know, the dark side of the grunge movement, as exemplified by Cobain’s overdose and death, is not all lighters and fist-pumping, and playwright Durso is to be commended to for not ignoring that fact in his emotionally complex play.
The disturbingness of Jake and Margot’s plan notwithstanding, when their home lives push them to even more extreme outsider behavior, even then going out it in ways that reveal their youth and innocence, those episodes pack a serious wallop.
The play’s ambiguous ending retains its original manic-depressive sense of simultaneous joy and pain, and will probably give you lots to talk about on your drive home from the City.
“Shiner” runs through July 26 at Pianofight. www.pianofight.com
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.