A city changes over time, but a town will always remain just exactly how you left it, says Tina (Monica Ho), reading aloud from a letter she’s writing to — well, we’ll find that out later — in San Francisco-born playwright Lauren Yee’s funny and touching “The Song of Summer.”
But Pottsville, Pa., the dreary Rust Belt town that musically gifted Robbie (Jeremy Kahn) came from and where he is now, impulsively, seeking refuge from fame, is not the same.
Or, at least, Tina, who’s the adopted daughter of his piano teacher (Anne Darragh) and Robbie’s high school classmate, is not the same.
Nor, of course, is Robbie himself, although he’s still convinced that the tough-minded Tina is a 7 and he’s a 4 on the social scale and thus not worthy of her flirtatious attention back when they were 16.
Yet in other ways, interestingly, he has not changed: Even now, 12 years later, when he’s become a pop superstar based on one hit song that he wrote, he’s still convinced that he and Tina are mismatched.
Yee is the gifted, award-winning playwright whose “King of the Yees” received a stellar production at San Francisco Playhouse in 2019; now, for its second live (socially distanced) show since the pandemic began, the Playhouse once again presents a beautifully directed, acted and designed Yee comedy.
Robbie’s a wonderfully melancholy, self-effacing character, and as played by the always-excellent Kahn, is a shambling, awkwardly charming teenager and, later, an equally feckless and unself-confident musician. He never had big plans for himself — unlike Tina, who at 16 was sure she’d be a doctor — but, on the strength of that one song, he’s a big deal, managed by his ambitious, fast-talking friend Joe (Reggie D. White).
We find out pretty quickly, though, that Robbie’s popularity is turning into notoriety: the lyrics of that song, it turns out, are suddenly seen to be “rapey.” Robbie’s completely, cluelessly, helpless in the face of this new development.
So here he is, hiding out at his piano teacher’s house, hated by women worldwide.
The play goes back and forth seamlessly between past and present. As teenagers, Tina is frustrated by Robbie’s lack of focus and ambition. Tell the universe out loud what you want from life, she orders Robbie. But he simply doesn’t know.
Although Yee touches upon various social issues, she’s not digging deep here. It’s the relationship between the two main characters, and the growing-up struggles that each endures, that’s most involving (and a seduction scene is especially hilarious as performed by Ho and Kahn). Guided by artistic director Bill English (who also designed the fine set), that relationship is palpable, authentic.
And it’s that kind of in-person, human interaction onstage that we’ve been missing so much lately. SF Playhouse wisely puts the emphasis on its excellent, ethnically diverse cast. This is a light-hearted play that feels right for this moment.
The Song of Summer
Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; also streaming on demand, through Aug. 14
Tickets: $15 to $100
Contact: (415) 677-9596, sfplayhouse.org