Why is “Krispy Kritters,” in the title of resident playwright Andrew Saito’s world premiere now at Cutting Ball Theater, spelled with two K’s — and what are they, anyway? For that matter, why is Scarlett spelled with two T’s?
The kritters might be the menagerie (everything from coyotes to gerbils) that reside inside cheery Gran Ma Ma’s (Marjorie Crump-Shears) head, and must periodically be sucked out through an ear trumpet.
Or they might be the tiny dead rodents that mortuary worker Drumhead (played with crazy-eyed intensity by Wiley Naman Strasser) keeps in cereal boxes.
Neither set of critters appears crispy, though — nor significant.
Scarlett (Felicia Benefield) is the name of Gran Ma Ma’s granddaughter and caregiver, who turns tricks upstairs.
Drumhead lusts after her, but she rejects him. Eventually, after finding a plastic sheriff’s badge in a cereal box, he insinuates himself into her boudoir by pretending to be the law and accusing her of murdering her clients.
Every character in this surreal, occasionally funny, but mostly perplexing play has strong desires. Scarlett craves freedom — and the gold rings of her johns.
Gran Ma Ma wants to regain her health. Drumhead’s father, a drunken amputee in a wheelchair (David Sinaiko), seeks his missing legs. The childlike and needy streetwalker Snowflake (Mimu Tsujimura) longs for a man and fixates on the Scarlett-obsessed Drumhead.
Politely scary Nurse Candy (Maura Halloran), who pops up in a hospital, in Gran Ma Ma’s home and, once, in the mortuary (where Drumhead’s groping a corpse), wants to heal Gran Ma Ma (while torturing Scarlett along the way).
With several areas of the tiny stage doing double duty by representing multiple scenes (set by Michael Locher), it takes a while to figure out what’s what.
But once you do, the characters, and their actions, get even stranger, with agile Caleb Cabrera playing both a sewer rat and a pet chimp, and Drew Wolff, too, in multiple roles (a cadaver, for one).
Saito’s language is lush and lyrical, but his script is overwritten, veering off-course in disorienting ways. That, plus the fact that everyone seems so crazy — and some are cruel, too — creates a distancing, destabilizing effect.
That may be Saito’s intention, but with no reality to hang on to for perspective, it’s hard to care about any of these desperate characters (despite the “kast’s” generally strong performances) or the circumstances.
And director Rob Melrose’s broad, busy staging adds to the chaos rather than clarifying it.
Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night
Presented by Cutting Ball Theater
- Where: Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., S.F.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes June 16
- Tickets: $10-$50
- Contact: (415) 525-1205, www.cuttingball.com