Humans of the tech persuasion
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An artist of my acquaintance is railing against gentrification by, among other things, stenciling rabble-rousing images on sidewalks. If the techie-types in Stuart Bousel's new play saw him at it, they'd whip out their cellphones and record for friends their good fortune to live in such a quirky city. Never mind that the barbed images are directed at them, they just wish there were more moments like this to authenticate their San Francisco experience.
A scene with direct parallels to the above â€" a crazed drag queen emerging from Muni hurling sexually laced invectives at the gawkers â€" provides the opening tableau in Adventures in Tech (With Pillow Talk on the Side) at PianoFight Theatre. "That's exactly why I moved here," says one of the witnesses as iPhones around him flash to life. It's almost like spotting a quetzal in the wilds of Costa Rica.
Gentrification, startups, tech bubbles, shuttle buses, apps, texting, and all things Silicon Valley are ingredients that are still reflavoring San Francisco, but are topics that have become as well-marked as stenciled sidewalks. Bousel brings a fresh take to the subject, not reinventing the wheel necessarily, but spinning it in new ways that don't so much make judgment as make sly observations about human behavior. In this case, even though most of those humans are of the tech persuasion, we are gradually given enough insight into their own workings that divides begin to be bridged.
Bousel has a gift for a comic style of dialogue in which over-eager characters manage to just miss each other's meanings, bringing on corrective backtracking that often makes matters worse. Or maybe it's a comment meant in jest to another person who hasn't realized their relationship has gotten to that point of jocularity. It's all very fresh and very funny, and finally about making real-life connections in insular lives where Siri stands guard at the drawbridges.
Just a handful of employees make up the staff of a startup company of unknown purpose, and they are crammed into a rented office with a few tables serving as desks and lights that aren't quite up to the task of shedding light. Conversations are painfully minimal at first, but gradually warm up. An icebreaker is when a heretofore-taciturn worker expresses sadness at the news David Bowie has just died. Yes, his coworker says, he did hear about it. "Did you find out from a friend?" asks the first worker. "No, online," second worker replies. "Sorry," says the first. "But it was on a friend's Facebook page," says the second, somehow lessening the impersonality of how the bad news was received.
These are kinds of the contemporary social convolutions Bousel is so good at pursuing, giving and taking away power from an omnipotent social media. Several scenes take place away from the office, where unnamed coworkers regularly appear and disappear. There's the Starbucks where office manager Stuart has a platonic crush on the affectionately hostile barista whose father worked in the coal mines. Or at least owned them, which is practically the same thing, she says. We also see Stuart at home with his childlike boyfriend, who stages musicals with stuffed animals to help save Broadway from jukebox musicals.
Dan Kurtz has an awkward charm as the aspiring writer slumming in tech before he must confess to his job recruiter (a vaguely nutty character made more funny in Amanda Rosenberg's no-joke characterization) that he's beginning to like his work. Stuart's colleagues each have specific idiosyncrasies, including Derek Jones as a frigidly unfriendly coworker, Cooper Carlson as a not-quite-in-sync jokester, Kevin Glass who good-naturedly takes arbitrary abuse for being from Australia, and Emily Keyishian as the rare female engineer whose obsession with Star Wars can only socially integrate her so far with men. As the barista, Adrianna Delgadillo provides unexpected bursts of comic snark, while Casey Spiegel sweetly plays the man-boy who is Stuart's lover.
Allison Page has staged the few-frills production with sharp attention to keeping the humor flowing between the many short scenes, so the lights up in the next scene often seem contiguous to the lights out of the prior one. The worlds of Facebook and its ilk shine like headlights in all our eyes, but Adventures in Tech merrily takes you unto some of the more skewed nooks and crannies of the digital world.
Adventures in Tech (with Pillow Talk on the Side) will run at PianoFight through July 16. Tickets are $15-$40. Go to pianofight.com.