Sonoma County is, some would say blessed, others might say cursed, with a lot of theatre. Currently running or recently closed shows range from classic fare like The Odd Couple, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Children’s Hour to more modern shows like Race or The Birds. If you’re looking for something completely original, you tend to have to travel a bit which brings us to the FaultLine Theater Company of San Francisco.
They’re a group of young theatre artists committed to the development and production of new works. They’ve impressed me in the past with the passion and energy they put into their work and with the quality of production they’ve been able to stage. They are always interesting and frequently outrageous. How outrageous? Well, the co-leads of their latest production are hamsters.
One wouldn’t think that there’s a lot to learn from hamsters on the subjects of commitment and parenting (seeing as how they tend to knock each other off and devour most of their young) but that didn’t stop playwright Dan Giles from using a couple of anthropomorphic rodents to broach the issues in his comedy Breeders, running now at Faultline Theater in San Francisco.
It’s the tale of Mikey and Dean, a same sex couple in a long-term, committed relationship who are days away from the arrival and adoption of an infant. It’s also the tale of Tyson and Jason, two cohabitating hamsters being cared for by Mikey and Dean who, to both of their surprise, turn out to be of the opposite sex. Soon, the pressures of impending parenthood strain both pairs of relationships, though only one ends in the loss of first an eye and then, well…
Though labeled as a “queer comedy”, the heart of the situation presented by Giles knows no gender or orientation. The excitement, the challenges, the dreams and the doubts that come with parenthood are pretty universal and apparently even cross species. The same goes for the issues of commitment and monogamy, which are hilariously addressed in several vignettes.
First-time director Adam Odsess-Rubin is up to the challenge of staging the parallel storylines in the confined space of PianoFight’s 40-seat second stage. He’s got a nicely-matched cast with Ryan Hayes and Sam Bertken as the huggy and occasionally histrionic humans. Hayes’s rock-solid Mikey plays in nice contrast to Bertken’s anxiety-ridden Dean. Both make for a believable couple as they navigate through Dean’s insecurities.
Nikki Meñez and Neil Higgins are the voracious vermin. Meñez is a force to be reckoned with as Tyson, the tough-as-nails alpha-female. Higgins is absolutely adorable as Jason, the ceaselessly amiable and affectionate proud papa to be. They romp on a clever set designed by Max Chanowitz and beneath a colorful lighting design by Maxx Kurzunski that go a long way in setting the show’s playful tone.
For a show with a couple of hamsters as co-leads, there’s an awful lot of humanity on stage in Breeders. Giles strikes just the right balance of absurdity and reality in his examination of the impact of procreation on an individual and on a relationship. Director Odsess-Rubin and cast have created a show that’s funny, thought-provoking, often sweet and occasionally biting – in every sense of the word.
Breeders runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through April 29 in San Francisco at the very interesting PianoFight venue.
For more information, go to faultinetheater.com