The San Francisco theater community turned out in full force for the opening of Anne Galjour’s new solo show. Part of the attraction was the reopening of Theater Artaud as a performance home for Z Space, the play-development organization.
But an equal draw was Galjour herself, a well-loved figure locally who has long been premiering her work here, both multicharacter pieces and solo performances.
Although she’s best known for plays set in her native bayou country, “You Can’t Get There From Here” takes place in rural New England.
It’s a compassionate look at the faltering American dream of owning a home and the Horatio Alger-inspired belief that we can transcend our backgrounds — that is, that we can get there from here, no matter how lowly “here” is.
The play had its world premiere at Dartmouth College, which commissioned Galjour to write about regional class conflicts that have pitted educated newcomers against established old-timers. Galjour interviewed many local residents to create the piece.
Disappointingly, though, “You Can’t,” performed on a virtually bare stage, is not as compelling, or as delightfully and humorously idiosyncratic, as Galjour’s previous works.
There’s some direct interaction among characters, but largely the play involves storytelling — certainly Galjour’s forte. Under Jayne Wenger’s smooth direction, Galjour’s delivery is fluid, energetic and connected. And even without costume changes, she defines her characters well enough, mostly by assorted New England dialects.
There’s elderly old-timer Abigail, played with a slightly wandering Katharine Hepburn accent, who longs to leave the Upper Valley and “roll into retirement” in a camper with her reluctant husband.
There’s newcomer neighbor Iris, a nurse who’s in over her head financially with her mortgage. “They sold me the dream,” she says, sighing.
There’s Iris’ house cleaner, welfare mother Regina, who’s struggling to make it through school and become a teacher, and who’s pining to be a homeowner. There’s Regina’s daughter, and taciturn loner, Abel, and a smooth-talking real estate developer and a few others.
But, the characters feel more like symbols than real people, lacking depth, and the play moves along so briskly that we spend too much time trying to figure out who they are, how they’re connected to each other and why we’re meant to care about them.
Their interpersonal conflicts, such as they are, never really ignite, giving the play a certain flatness. Ultimately, it’s hard to get emotionally involved or find fresh insights within this exploration of a very timely topic.
Presented by Z Space
Where: Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 27
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.zspace.org