Review: Chances are ‘This Random World’ will charm you at North Coast Rep
If you could diagram the intertwined lives of the people in Steven Dietz’s inspired “This Random World,” it might look like one of those M.C. Escher drawings where lines somehow connect without ever intersecting.
But Dietz’s play is much more than some clever dramatic schematic. In its West Coast premiere at North Coast Rep, the piece also shimmers with wit, heart and a gentle but affecting wisdom.
It helps that NCRT artistic chief David Ellenstein has cast some of San Diego’s top actors (plus several excellent newcomers to the Solana Beach theater), and that he directs with an assured feel for the work’s bittersweet, sometimes delicate tone.
While “This Random World” unfolds as a series of two-character scenes — each with its own distinctive story — it proves to be a long way from something like the superficially similar “Almost, Maine,” John Cariani’s whimsical collection of mostly unconnected playlets.
In fact, Dietz’s work, besides being darker around the edges, is completely about connection. The twist is that the people in the play are for the most part utterly unaware of the bonds among them, which click together like links on a chain as the 100-minute, intermissionless play goes on.
But one of the great pleasures of the play is that we in the audience see everything the characters don’t — and if that doesn’t give you a little buzz of omniscience, it should at least keep you busy trying to keep all the interlaced relationships straight.
We first meet the bickering siblings Beth (Lisel Gorell-Getz) and Tim (Kevin Hafso-Koppman), whose flinty mutual affection reminded me of the duo in Kenneth Lonergan’s great movie “You Can Count On Me.”
Beth, whom Gorell-Getz plays with a perfect sense of the quirkily comic, is both so control-obsessed and pessimistic that she’s dictating every last detail of her funeral services, although she doesn’t appear to be in imminent danger of death.
The aimless Tim, meanwhile, is mostly trying to fend off Beth’s accusatory questions; Hafso-Koppman, a recent grad of the prestigious Old Globe/University of San Diego acting program, captures winningly his put-upon character’s exasperation.
It would reveal way too much to talk about how those two are connected to the adventurous older woman Scottie (Anne Gee Byrd) and her patient assistant Bernadette (Yolanda Franklin); or how the troubled couple Claire (Diana Irvine) and Gary (Patrick Zeller) figure into things; not to mention how the ever-helpful mortuary clerk Rhonda (Ava Hill) and the exceptionally random (and uncredited) figure played wryly by Joe Paulson fit in.
Suffice to say that Byrd makes for a soulful center to the piece, while Franklin, Hill and Zeller all add well-calibrated doses of humor. The newcomer Irvine, a New York University grad and a real find, brings an off-kilter vibe that speaks beautifully both to the play’s humor and its more serious undercurrents.
The production looks and feels polished, thanks to Marty Burnett’s deceptively versatile set, Matthew Novotny’s low-key but elegant lighting (aided by effective projections), Elisa Benzoni’s costumes and Melanie Chen Cole’s sound design.
Dietz — last at NCRT nearly eight years ago with “Becky’s New Car” — does push his luck toward play’s end, with a bit of clunky exposition and a chancy leap into the mystical.
Even so, this work’s comic gifts and almost fable-like feel help it glide past such snags to find a place in the heart and mind.
“This Random World”
When: 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
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.