THEATER The title of Matt Smith's solo show recalls a certain long-running television soap, but the tale it flags is nutty even by the guiding light of that genre. The Seattle-based writer-performer's All My Children, now running at the Berkeley Marsh, is the wry, offbeat first-person account of one solitary middle-aged man's shameless construction of a family by unconventional means — namely, stalking the children of his exes.
Max Poth (an affable, dryly amusing Smith) explains he's had six serious romantic relationships in his life. But owing to a certain reticence or immaturity on his part, none of them lasted or led to marriage, let alone children. Max has recently learned, however — after a little nostalgic trawling of the Internet — that the women he once loved all managed to marry some other dude within months of breaking up with him. More than that, they each had a child — their one and only child — within a year of leaving him.
Max is the kind of guy who takes that kind of thing personally. Intrigued, stirred, and more than likely gripped by a midlife crisis, the wiry, weathered, graying perennial bachelor seeks out these grown children one by one, and tells them he is their real father. To hear Max confess it, this pronouncement comes out the first time as the pure inspiration of the moment, an irresistible impulse. But what begins willy-nilly soon continues with premeditation, a half-examined earnestness, and an almost scientific detachment. We, his audience, listen with increasingly rapt attention, a combination of fascination, mounting horror, and nervous laughter as Max — alone on a small stage with no mise-en-scène to speak of beyond a deliberately hokey light shift or two — waxes on about his cuckoo-like experiment in brood parasitism, or fatherhood.
The beauty of the show and its sly, unadorned storytelling (handily managed by director Bret Fetzer) lies in its ability to expand beyond a one-liner premise. Max soon introduces us to six younger characters as intriguing as his own suspect self. That this droll, unpredictable yarn ends up not just a midlife ode to parenting but one with something that smacks of real truth in it can be chalked up to the delicate (im)balance in Max between seemingly psychotic tendencies, morbid humor, and a genuine urge to devote himself, at last, to others. If love is the ultimate high he seeks, for Max — and all his voluntary children — a willing weirdness is the gateway drug.
Dysfunctional parents and dysfunctional children ultimately harmonize and heal amid the silent stalking of an escaped tiger in Tigers Be Still, a sweet and competent if TV-mannered 2010 comedy from young New York City playwright Kim Rosenstock, now making a sure West Coast debut at SF Playhouse under director Amy Glazer.
After her advanced degree in art therapy leads to exactly no job offers, Sherry (Melissa Quine) moves back into her mother's house. It's a house that admittedly could use some therapy. Mom is a recluse who communicates by an internal phone line from upstairs (and offstage), where she battles the shame of weight gain from an unknown ailment. Sister Grace (Rebecca Schweitzer) meanwhile occupies the couch, besotted, recovering not too well from a breakup with her fiancé with the aid of a large bottle of Jack Daniels, a well-worn DVD of Top Gun, and a reckless flirtation with the geriatric postman.
But Sherry's ostensible charge, and first client, is in fact Zack (Jeremy Kahn), the morose son of her mother's old flame and Sherry's new boss (Remi Sandri). Zack, it turns out, is burdened by guilt over the car accident that took his own mother's life, and his relationship with his loving but perplexed father has accordingly attenuated. In other words, that escaped tiger outside ends up standing for a lot of people's trauma and fear — unless of course it's just as lost and bored and depressed as everybody else in this gentle, mildly funny, and well-acted production. Although sentimental and not quite as outrageous or acute as it would like to pretend, Tigers Be Still has some decent laughs and can charm, especially with so likeable a cast, even if it doesn't bite.
ALL MY CHILDREN
Fri/22, 8 p.m.; Sat/23, 8:30 p.m., $20–$50
Cabaret at Marsh Berkeley
2120 Allston, Berk.
TIGERS BE STILL
Extended through Sept. 10
Tues.–Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat., 3 p.m.), $30–$50
533 Sutter, SF