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FaultLine’s ‘Shiner’ packs an emotional punch

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Monica Ho and Adam Magill are excellent in “Shiner,” FaultLine Theater’s Bay Area premiere by Christian Durso about angry teens who are into Nirvana. (Courtesy Alison Barnes Studio)

Margot and Jake have it all figured out. Their 13-year-old lives suck and the best solution seems to be to see Kurt Cobain perform and then jump off a freeway overpass and die happy.\
That’s the premise for Christian Durso’s “Shiner,” another Bay Area premiere presented at PianoFight by the spunky and ambitious FaultLine Theater.

The company is thriving on new work and off-center content like its recent productions of “Cannibal,” which was literally all about its title character plus a strong romantic sub-plot, and “Trailer Park Gods,” a fantasia on mythology, incest and other family failures.

The core elements of “Shiner” are more rooted in reality but that doesn’t make the progression of its characters any less fascinating.

Margot (Monica Ho) worships at the altar of Nirvana and is super pissed that her school will not let her hold meetings of Grunge Rock Underground National Great Escape – yes, there’s an acronym – on the junior high campus. So she camps out in front of Moby Disk Records, where she meets Jake (Adam Magill), the first – and only – applicant for membership in her club of one.

Her watch-cry is “No Posers!” so she tests his grunge cred and discovers he has none. He’s just another damaged youth looking for a safe haven between psychological torture at school and emotional torture at home.

She leaves him with a cassette player and a Nirvana album, opening his world with a catharsis that drives them through a nihilistic power exchange.

The diminutive Ho is a fierce little warrior. Her Margot is ready to kick the ass of anyone who challenges her carefully constructed reality. With a been-there-done-that swagger, she leads Jake from cigarettes and drugs to self-flagellation (The title refers to the by-product of hitting yourself in the face in order to feel something.) Still, she’s not quite ready for how quickly and willingly Jake passes the tipping point of no return.

Magill was a standout in the powerful ensemble of “Stupid Fucking Bird” at San Francisco Playhouse. He’s even more powerful here, starting with the same doofy likeability, but then contorting his lanky frame into a knot of raw pain, frustration, rage and, ultimately, disillusionment.

“Shiner” is being promoted as a “rock concert, wrapped in a satirical drama” and there is interstitial music by a live band. However, director Cole Ferriauolo has smartly limited their participation to an embellishment, letting Durso’s smart, passionate script stay center stage in the hands of these two wonderful actors.

Presented by FaultLine Theater
Where: PianoFight, 144 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; closes July 25
Tickets: $15 to $20
Contact: (415) 816-3691, www.faultlinetheater.com

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