Somewhere in the Old West, a soldier and a cowpoke find themselves in the middle of nowhere.
The train they rode in on has stopped, and the tracks have run out. They have no plan, no supplies and no idea what will happen next.
In Basil Kreimendahl’s “Sidewinders,” which made its world premiere last week at Cutting Ball Theater, the setup feels awfully familiar. Like Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Kreimendahl’s play brings us into an existential wasteland, then introduces characters — named Bailey and Dakota — as clueless as Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon.
Kreimendahl does existentialism with a difference, though. Beckett’s tramps were unquestionably men.
Bailey (DavEnd) and Dakota (Sara Moore) aren’t so sure — whether they’re men, women or something else. It’s causing them no end of grief, and their anxiety forms the heart of this 80-minute fantasia on gender identity.
If the results aren’t nearly as inventive — or as timeless — as “Godot,” Kreimendahl’s humor and giddy use of language nearly sustain the conceit. Yet, as staged by M. Graham Smith, the production loses its absurdist edge well before the final curtain.
The first 30 minutes are the most engaging, as DavEnd’s sensitive, statuesque Bailey and Moore’s compact, energetic Dakota arrive on an arid plain.
Michael Locher’s set features rocks and papier mache clouds, airily lit by Heather Basarab. Matt Stines provides subtle sound effects, and Heidi Leigh Hanson’s costumes get laughs all on their own.
More pressing than the characters’ need to move is their desire to solve the “organ mystery.” They’re so confused about what’s down there — “I can not even name it,” exclaims Bailey — they resort to vocalizing with wordless sounds to describe their anatomical parts.
Like “Godot,” the play brings on two additional characters: Sandy (Donald Currie), who claims to have birthed 32 children, and her servant, Sam (Norman Munoz).
In several longish monologues that follow — offset by a hanging, a last testament and a mock-surgical “rearrangement” — the play loses its comic momentum and simply derails.
Still, there’s something ingenious about Kreimendahl’s Wild West setting, a metaphorical final frontier that can’t be far from San Francisco. When Bailey and Dakota gaze into the wide open spaces and say, “We are at the edge of everything,” you just have to feel they’ve come to the right place.
Presented by Cutting Ball Theater
Where: EXIT on Taylor, 227 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 17.
Tickets: $10 to $50