Novelist Denis Johnson’s fast-talking underworld characters are an unnerving lot.
In his latest, “Nobody Move,” there’s the main character, affable chatterbox Jimmy Luntz, who tries to believe he’s lucky, but we know better.
On the lam, he meets up with alcoholic American Indian beauty Anita, a troubled soul on a self-destructive path.
There’s also the maniacal killer Gambol, who’s after Luntz, and the tough but vulnerable ex-Army nurse, Mary, who’s rehabilitating Gambol after a gunshot wound.
Then there’s the possibly psychotic bartender and his jumpy, ill-fated lover, both hiding out near the Feather River, where Luntz and Anita seek refuge. And finally, there’s the icy, much-feared but rarely seen Juarez.
This unholy troupe is on a collision course with disaster, with fleeting moments of connection along the way.
On stage in a production by Campo Santo, director Sean San Jose’s world-premiere stage adaptation — assigning occasional bits of descriptive narration to the characters and making a few other minor written changes — largely captures the essence of Johnson’s noir, quasi-literary world: the speedy volleys of often-elliptical dialogue, the atmosphere of constantly simmering and sometimes-exploding anger, the pared-down swiftness and intensity of it all, the characters’ conflicting needs for both retribution and connection.
Tommy Shepherd’s score nicely enhances the action, which plays out on scenic designer Tanya Orellana’s sleek and tidy set.
Only intermittently effective, though, is the way the lengthy script, with its many short and punchy scenes, comes to theatrical life.
This is Campo Santo’s 10th project with acclaimed writer Johnson, but this time the normally solid ensemble of company regulars and Johnson aficionados — including Margo Hall, Michael Torres, Daveed Diggs, Donald Lacy and other local luminaries — seems geared to perform in an amphitheater. The decibel level is ear-splitting, and the characterizations are disconcertingly broad.
In a play that features several episodes of extreme violence, the horror of those moments — and even the ghoulish humor of them — is lost amid the ongoing cacophony. So are nuances of character and interaction.
A welcome relief are two blessedly quiet scenes in which Anita communes with a dead spirit on the banks of the river; Catherine Castellanos beautifully limns her character’s bottomless anguish.
This production inaugurates a new and improved venue for Campo Santo, now housed — with its parent company Intersection for the Arts — in the San Francisco Chronicle building.
There’s a flexibility in staging that the previous Valencia Street digs lacked, and an increased intimacy — both of which augur well for the company’s future shows, which will be set here and elsewhere throughout the building.
Presented by Campo Santo
Where: 925 Mission St.,
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; closes June 12
Tickets: $20 to $35
Contact: (415) 626-2787, ext. 109, www.theintersection.org