by Karla Kane
How would you spend your last 12 hours on Earth? With your loved ones, many of us would likely answer. But what if a mysterious "vanishing" event took away half the world's population, including your family, the day before? In local playwright Jeffrey Lo's "Spending the End of the World on OK Cupid," on stage now at the Pear Theatre, a 10-person cast of left-behind characters turn to the dating website OkCupid.com in a last-ditch attempt to form some new human connections before it's too late.
It's an engaging premise and a sometimes-engaging play, which could use some editing to sharpen its script and muster greater insights.
Framing the plot is the inexplicable "vanishing," which was correctly predicted by a bellowing prophet called Alfred Winters (Keith Larson). Enraged that no one believed his previous warning that many would disappear suddenly (although it's unclear why they would), he's making the media circuit repeating his rage-filled speech to any outlet that will have him, reiterating that the world will end at midnight.
The play was first commissioned by Ohlone College, where it was performed in 2016. At the time of its creation, OkCupid.com allowed users to take anonymous screen names, something it no longer does, apparently. So, we get characters going by humorous monikers including "AreYouMyMother," "WarriorsGirl30" (Samantha Ricci), "MsChanandlerBong" (Michael Weiland) and more.
Two lead characters quickly do share their real identities and decide to meet up in person: Ben (Tasi Alabastro) and Caitlyn (Michelle Skinner). He's an outgoing bon vivant who wants to check items off his bucket list (plans range from setting off fireworks to getting a tattoo to "making a difference"). She's a nervous and mousy poet who dreams of sharing her work at an open mic and finds herself drawn to Ben's positive energy even as she's reluctant to trust him.
Ben and Caitlyn set off on an evening's worth of adventures, such as trying the exclusive $20 cup of coffee that baristas customize personally to each customer's tastes (but generally recommend black). The line of surly coffee snobs, all decked out in similar knit caps, is one of the show's best visual gags. As they roam the town, Ben and Caitlyn also get to know each other, cramming what might normally be a long series of online conversations and casual dates into a quick-forming meaningful bond.
WarriorsGirl30 and MsChanandlerBong take it slower. He is eager to meet but she's (initially) insistent that they keep it confined to virtual chats.
Surrounding the vignettes depicting the interactions of the two main couples are interspersed snippets of many others reciting their OkCupid profiles, some poignant and sad, some comical.
Some characters appear only once, while others pop up repeatedly, such as television host Sage Cruz (Ivette Deltoro), who struggles to prioritize her family over her career. Director Michael Champlin gamely takes on the role of burger chef Louie, who, along with his sulky son Lou (Filip Hofman), encounters Ben and Caitlyn during Ben's quest to eat the fabled "Louie's 10-star burger," a "secret item on the secret menu" that no one has ever before been able to finish.
A nitpick: One wonders, firstly, why would "Louie's 10-star burger" be a secret item at a place literally called "Louie's 10-star?" Secondly, the burger in question turns out to just be 10 regular cheeseburgers stacked upon each other, with no "secret" or interesting ingredients, so it's hard to see why that would be worth spending some of Ben's precious remaining hours on. Or perhaps that's the point? Maybe he just likes the challenge.
The fairly bland set and production design does the show few favors (photos from the original Ohlone production seem to suggest a much more visually compelling endeavor), although Megan Souther's lighting design is effective. Champlin, in the dual role of director and restaurateur, proves an entertaining host and perks things up before and between acts. And I have yet to see Alabastro give a performance that was less than delightful. His Ben is no exception: a schlubby, exasperating-but-charming soul with whom hijinks and smiles seem guaranteed. When he gormlessly breaks Caitlyn's fragile trust, it really, if briefly, hurts.
The idea of exploring how people present themselves online, as well as how they'd seek to spend the end of the world, is a good one. The results in this show are hit and miss, though, with too much repetition and ideas not developed deeply or far enough. Lo is a talented writer and worth paying attention to. In the case of Pear's "Spending the end of the World on OK Cupid," though, the show has potential but, like no doubt many an internet-dating experience, fails to fully click.
What: "Spending the End of the World on OK Cupid."
Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View.
When: Through Feb. 17, Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Info: Go to thepear.org.