Celebrated playwright-screenwriter Sheila Callaghan is offering up what is sure to be a wild ride in “Port Out, Starboard Home.”
Callaghan, currently a writer on Showtime’s “Shameless,” is the brain behind a new voyage-themed show from FoolsFury, dubbed “Port Out, Starboard Home” (POSH), which opens at Z Space tonight before sailing off to New York audiences.
“I was trying to figure out how to do a piece about people with varying backgrounds and beliefs who would be in one place, and the first thing that popped into my mind was a cruise ship,” Callaghan says of the show, which features a diverse group of “seekers” looking for enlightenment in between food buffets and other lavishdecadences.
But even Callaghan, whose previous stage works — from “Dead City” to “Scab” — often have been called “gutsy” or “raunchy,” admits that it’s a bit challenging to sum up “POSH” so easily.
In the production, directed by Ben Yalom, an ensemble cast (Amy Prosser, Benjamin Stuber, Angela Santillo, Calder Shilling, Brian Livingston) weaves Callaghan’s dialogue with other artistic realms, including dance; Erika Chong Shuch’s choreography also is featured.
The play becomes less about just watching people embark on a luxury cruise and more about witnessing them unravel emotionally from “pampered society.”
If it sounds very “leave-your-baggage-at-the-dock,” that’s the point.
“As you’re watching people interact, slowly it becomes clear what the purpose is on the boat,” Callaghan says. “People are transformed in some way — whether they are unhappy with their lives, or they feel spiritually empty, a transformation happens.”
The rich topic is one that Callaghan already has addressed. She turned heads as a writer for Showtime’s Emmy-nominated “The United States of Tara” a few years ago, and in 2010 was named one of the “10 screenwriters to watch” by Variety.
“I don’t like to talk about it much because sometimes people judge TV writers,” she says. “I have gotten some not-so-polite responses [about that], but I am still so actively involved in theater and I find San Francisco audiences thoughtful and curious.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by FoolsFury
Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.
When: Opens at 8 p.m. today; 8 p.m. most Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes Sept. 22
Tickets: $20 to $30
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.Zspace.org