“Oblivion,” the play now receiving its West Coast premiere at the B Street Theatre, is not to be confused with “Oblivion,” the Tom Cruise movie — although they both are about equally good and bad.
“Oblivion” the play is by Carly Mensch, best known for her writing on two sharp cable TV series, “Weeds” and “Nurse Jackie.” It has an interesting premise: What do a couple of hip, agnostic/atheist parents do when they learn their daughter has discovered Christ?
Well, that’s one of the premises. “Oblivion” goes on to explore couple dynamics, infidelity (real or imagined), teenage angst, even film-making. Sometimes it appears Mensch has messed a little too much with the weed, if you know what I mean. Good ideas keep coming, then going into the plot. It’s too much, but Mensch seems unaware of it. Oblivious. Nevertheless, B Street gives the play a solid interpretation, drawing fine performances from its four-person cast.
Elisabeth Nunziato and Kurt Johnson play parents Pam and Dixon. She’s a cable-TV hot shot (sound familiar?) and he’s a failed lawyer who says he’s about to go all John Grisham on the legal system by writing a novel. Julie Balefsky plays 16-year-old daughter Julie and Arthur Keng plays Bernard, a would-be filmmaker who is obsessed with film critic Pauline Kael but who, inconceivably, doesn’t know she’s dead. This conceit works for laughs — and Keng is wonderful in the role, with his letters to Pauline — but it strains credulity to think that he doesn’t know Kael is no longer among the living. Another problem with Bernard is that although he’s the one who introduced Julie to religion, he’s not so sure about it himself.
The set-up of parents gifted with a child of opposite views — think conservative Alex P. Keaton, son of liberal parents in “Family Ties” — offers opportunities for discussion of why we think what we think, how our views can change, and how we accept others for who they are. How much of Julie’s religious conversion is real and how much is merely teenage rebellion? How open-minded can free-thinkers be if they express bias against those who think differently?
This is some smart stuff, offering food for thought as well as laughs for the belly. And “Oblivion” delivers there. The sight of a homemade baptism in a dishpan is funny. Hilarious, even. If only it had stuck with that avenue and not gone off on so many side streets.
Performances of “Oblivion” at B Street Theatre run through April 19 at 6:30pm Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30pm Wednesday, 8pm Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 pm Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays. The theater is at 2711 B St. Purchase tickets at bstreettheatre.org or by calling the box office at (916) 443-5300.
Photo courtesy of B Street Theatre