An obsessed fan is no laughing matter (remember Kathy Bates in Misery?), that is unless the obsessed fan in question is the one under hotel arrest in Eliza Clark’s delightful, surprising, and ultimately quite touching new dramedy Future Thinking, now World Premiering at South Coast Repertory.
51-year-old Peter Ford (Arye Gross) may be a nondescript pet photographer in his day-to-day life, but it’s in full “Gregor” garb that we first glimpse him in the hotel room now serving as the “annex” for a Comic Con he’s shelled out big bucks to attend.
Unfortunately for Peter, by approaching the booth where 23-year-old TV star Chiara Farrow (Virginia Vale) was busy signing autographs, her biggest fan has not only violated a restraining order issued after last year’s convention, but done so by attempting to give Chiara a vial of his blood. (Can you say gross?)
Still, as Peter explains to 30ish convention security head Jim Barnard (Enver Gjokaj), there was method in his apparent madness, since as any diehard Odyssey fan can tell you, “in a world where money doesn’t exist and diseases have overrun the colony, clean blood is the only currency.”
Meanwhile over in Chiara’s room, the blonde beauty is once again whining to bodyguard Sandy Mills (Jud Williford) about stage mom Crystal (Heidi Dippold), who apparently has nothing better to do than use her daughter’s celebrity to go out partying … and in “fucking jeggings” no less.
Yes, Chiara does get a kick out of seeing herself in US Weekly (“I look hot. Don’t I look hot?”), but it would be nice if the press would for once stop being their predictable selves and leave the TV star the fuck alone.
About the only thing predictable about Future Thinking is our certainty that Peter and Chiara will at some point or other meet. Beyond that, all bets are off, which is just one reason why Clark’s play is such a captivating treat, as are its characters, who manage at once to be both quirky and absolutely real, something rarely the case with quirky.
And they are multidimensional to boot, from Peter, who rarely sees his two growing children since their mom moved them to Florida; to Chiara, who’s far from the flighty bimbo fan magazines would like us to believe; to Jim, whose seemingly go-nowhere job is actually part of a “future thinking” he’d like Peter to try out.
Crazed fans, particularly those who dress up Halloween-style more than once a year, can make for an easy target, but playwright Clark goes beneath the surface to reveal in Peter a geek’s wounded soul, and with the always marvelous Gross doing some of his most powerful, moving work to date under Lila Neugebaurer’s flairful direction, Future Thinking is in expert hands indeed.
Gjokay quietly steals every scene he’s in as the Tom Selleck-mustachioed Jim, who can recommend Heather Locklear as an age-appropriate Chiara substitute one minute, then give far less risible advice the next.
Scenic designer Dane Laffrey’s set transforms niftily from one cookie-cutter hotel room to another (and then another still) with the spin of a turntable or two. Lap Chi Chu lights expertly throughout, sound designer Stowe Nelson links scenes with dramatic musical punch, and costumer Melissa Trn aces both real and fantasy-life wear, with special snaps for Peter’s presumably homemade Gregor.
Kimberly Colburn is dramaturg. Kathryn Davies is stage manager. Joshua Marchesi is production manager. Casting is by Joanne DeNaut, CSA.
Not many playwrights can keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next while at the same time have their characters provide an equal number of surprises. Eliza Clark does both in Future Thinking, a play I heartily recommend making part of your Future Plans.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
April 5, 2106
Photos: Debora Robinson/SCR and Don Horak/SCR