North Coast Rep's 'This Random World' explores mysteries behind the everyday

The phrase “missed connections” might conjure thoughts of watching an airport gate close as you sprint toward it in desperation after a delayed flight into Cincinnati. (Doesn’t matter where you’re heading; you’ve always gotta go through Cincinnati.)

Those aren’t quite the kinds of missed connections Steven Dietz has in mind with “This Random World,” although the playwright did hit on the idea for the piece while sitting on an airplane.

It happened as Dietz was headed toward a writing conference a few years back, and trying to figure out how to expand some unrelated scenes he had previously written into a new story.

“I made a list of what possible relationships could be in this yet-to-be-written play, and which characters would likely have scenes with other characters,” he recalls. “As the plane was landing I looked at this list of probably 10 or 12 scenes. And I remember thinking: I can write all these scenes and I will have a play … but that play will look like all sorts of other plays I’ve written.

“And then I thought: What if I keep my list, but it becomes the list of what scenes cannot be in the play?”

That notion developed into “This Random World,” which has its West Coast premiere at North Coast Rep beginning this week.

The piece is powered by what Dietz calls an “absence narrative” — a reference to the way characters in “This Random World” cross paths in ways they’re not even aware of, although the audience is.

That theme seems to connect the play in some ways to such recent alternate-lives works as “If/Then” and “Constellations,” although the prolific Dietz says another work of his, “Bloomsday,” is more properly a “road not taken” play — meaning one in which “a character comes to realize the impact of picking one course over another.

“‘This Random World’ doesn’t strike me as that, since all the revelations are provided by the audience and denied to the characters. That’s why the subtitle is the ‘Myth of Serendipity’ — there’s no way for us, of course, to know how many ‘near-misses,’ large and small, we have in our day-to-day lives.”

The piece plays out as a series of vignettes that chronicle such moments among a group of people whose struggles (and stages of life) vary widely.

Dietz, who was previously represented at North Coast Rep with “Becky’s New Car” in 2010, says he’s “completely delighted” to have his longtime friend David Ellenstein, NCRT’s artistic chief, directing the production. (Ellenstein’s cast includes Anne Gee Byrd, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Lisel Gorell-Getz, Yolanda Franklin, Ava Hill, Diana Irvine, Patrick Zeller and Joe Paulson.)

He’s also intrigued by the idea that while “the characters are having private experiences, we as an audience are having a public and communal one, in shared time.

“The missed connections — that only we in the audience can see — hopefully consecrate our shared time together.”

“This Random World”

When: In previews. Opens Saturday. 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through March 18.

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

Tickets: $42-$53 (discounts available)

Phone: (858) 481-1055

Online: northcoastrep.org

jim.hebert@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @jimhebert

Copyright © 2018, Pacific San Diego