Local playwright Christopher Chen is known for his layered, metatheatrical, endlessly playful comedies in which he explores contemporary themes. If you’ve never seen any of his plays before — “The Hundred Flowers Project,” “You Mean to Do Me Harm,” “Communion” and more — it may take a while to acclimate yourself to his witty trickster style.
A live audience attended the recent opening night of “Late Wedding” at Pear Theatre in Mountain View; I opted for watching the opening-night livestream recording on YouTube the next day. The 90-minute play premiered at Crowded Fire in San Francisco in 2014, so the virtual performance was bound to feel different.
“Late Wedding” was inspired by several of Italian writer Italo Calvino’s novels, including the quasi-imaginary-travel-guide-like “Invisible Cities,” but with marriages substituted for cities. It begins with an introduction by a narrator (the hyper-energetic Annamarie MacCloud), who slyly predicts just about every reaction an initially leery audience might have. “You want to believe in the play,” she says, encouragingly. “Isn’t a play all about trust?”
And wheee! Chen is off and running, and it’s up to the audience to go along with his fantastical scenarios, starting with a few “case studies,” by an anthropologist, of oddball marriage customs, hetero- and homosexual, among different “tribes.” “Is this seriously how the play will proceed?” says the narrator. Yes, it is.
In one sketch, a couple has a very loose grip on the concept of memory. In another, a pair’s communication breaks down over time because their culture’s custom is to remain on separate honeymoons—forever. In yet another, a couple earnestly explains that marriage equals death.
And just when you might relax into what seems to be a witty spoof of expectations about matrimony, Chen swerves, and now two spies in a train station are arguing about the correct password. “Where did this come from?” wonders the narrator.
The play then segues into a series of “interludes” in which characters from the earlier sketches reappear at times, and, as the harried narrator exclaims, “We now seem to be on a spaceship!”
This is a Russian doll of a play about not just marriage but also playwriting — characters assume the persona of the playwright at various times — and about assorted other snippets of existential thoughts and ideas, all somehow glued together using tropes of sci-fi, spy thrillers and anthropological studies.
But in this production, directed by Sinohui Hinojosa, it’s harder to follow Chen’s already tangled threads than it should be. The action is always either very slow, or the characters—played by an uneven cast of seven actors in multiple roles —resort to frenzied shouting. On the whole, they are simply not believable as authentic humans. Chen is zany, but his characters, within their own skewed reality, are always meant to be real.
REVIEW: Late Wedding
Presented by Pear Theatre
Where: 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View
When: 8 p.m. Fridays (indoors) 2 p.m. Sundays (outdoors); closes July 18
Tickets: $30 to $34
Contact: (650) 254-1148, thepear.org
Note: The show also streams live at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays.