Things are so mystifying in the opening segments of Will Franken’s new solo show at the Marsh, “Grandpa It’s Not Fitting,” it took me awhile to connect with the lanky, wild-eyed writer/performer. What are we to make of a recorded song about ejaculating into a swan, and a meandering, extended sequence in which an amplified voice-over intones repetitive stage directions as Franken, in a lab coat, gazes quizzically at the tech booth and telephones a terminal breast cancer patient, represented by a gnatlike buzzing in his ear?
But when Franken moves on to a series of satirical scenes that morph seamlessly into one another, “Grandpa’s” 90-plus minutes race by, full of wit and weirdness with only the occasional misstep. David Hines’ direction is gratifyingly snappy, and Franken’s own sound design adds welcome texture.
In Franken’s fevered vision, global warming becomes dire warnings about “global rounding,” the cause of the current obesity epidemic.
In a riff that exhibits Franken’s talent for motor-mouthed mimicry, accents and funny characters, a slow-witted computer user telephones an AT&T call center, only to be deluged by a semicomprehensible spiel from a spiritually minded Indian technician who turns out to be a recording. A psychotherapist recommends suicide as a remedy for his patient’s depression and helpfully suggests various methods.
Franken is fearlessly un-PC, willing to mock things we’re not supposed to laugh at.
Less successful are some absurdist, off-the-wall ramblings from deep within Franken’s preternaturally expansive mind: an overlong sketch of a nightclub singer crooning, “You’re the ‘O’ in San Francisco”; a prison reform spokesperson suggesting building gingerbread houses instead of more prisons; the son called into the principal’s office for throwing cottage cheese at a student; a straight-faced description of how Franken’s father hovered mid-air for 20 years straight.
A concluding scene meant to bring the show full circle, followed by a scratchy recording of a Winston Churchill speech, escaped me. Overall, though, Franken’s an electrifying presence, and “Grandpa” is full of sharp and brilliant insights.
Grandpa It’s Not Fitting
Where: The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, closes Aug. 4
Contact: (415) 826-5750 or www themarsh.org