The clipped, repetitive banalities exchanged by the middle-aged couple in the first half of Scottish playwright Linda McLean’s “Any Given Day” recall, in some ways, the dialogue in the mid-20th-century plays of Eugene Ionesco or Harold Pinter.
“Jackie wouldn’t come in the dark,” says Bill.
“No no,” says Sadie. “She couldn’t come in the dark.”
“We couldn’t open the door in the dark.”
“Not once it’s dark.”
But McLean, whose 2010 play is receiving its American premiere in this Magic Theatre production, has a voice that’s all her own.
In juxtaposing two sets of couples, she creates two distinct little worlds, both affected by the larger world that looms outside. This is a deeply empathetic glance at the way people struggle through life, and connect, under adverse circumstances.
Bill and Sadie, both mentally challenged to varying degrees, are awaiting the arrival of Bill’s niece, Jackie. Sadie (an appealingly playful and vulnerable Amy Kossow) is a mass of fears and anxieties, afraid to answer the telephone, let alone the door. When the more functional Bill (a hearty, affable Christopher McHale) leaves for a while, Sadie is dangerously alone in their council flat.
In the play’s second half, set in a pub (nicely contrasting sets by Michael Locher, but necessitating a too-lengthy set change), we meet nurse-turned-barmaid Jackie herself.
Played with wonderfully raw nervous energy by Stacy Ross, she’s about to head across town for her routine visit to Sadie and Bill. But she’s waylaid by the bartender, an equally lonely and needy soul (the gifted, emotionally transparent James Carpenter).
In a delicate scene — both funny and sad — the two reach out tentatively to each other.
The way McLean depicts the interplay of each couple — and the way director Jon Tracy guides them through their scenes, both physically and emotionally — has a lovely musicality to it. It helps that the actors have a good feeling for the Scottish brogue; the dialect coach is Deborah Sussel.
It should also be noted that Patrick Alparone, filling in at the last minute in a small role, rounds out the strong cast.
“Any Given Day” is the kind of delicate, realistic little play that works so well in the Magic’s intimate space, and McLean is the kind of playwright whose work we can hope to see more frequently on these shores.
Any Given Day
Presented by Magic Theatre
Where: Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes April 22
Tickets: $20 to $60
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org