In what ways do our bloodlines — our heritage — affect our lives? To what degree are we the masters of our fate? And how do the choices we make affect the generations to come?
The title of Ripe Theatre’s almost-but-not-quite-realistic drama “Akin,” with the subtitle “It’s in the blood,” has multiple meanings — a signal that the play itself is layered and challenging on many levels.
Keep your thinking cap on and you’ll be rewarded with a meticulously structured, well-acted and thought-provoking teaser, a sort of existential-metaphysical quasi-mystery that presents its characters from multiple angles.
Originally produced by Ripe in 2003, the two-act play unfurls in inverted chronological order to explore the lives of the members of two oddly interconnected families.
A pair of identical twins (played by Kimberly Lester with a riveting sense of repressed violence) are pregnant at the same time.
Mary, who’s expecting twins, is married. Kate is not. But did Mary’s husband (Christopher Kuckenbaker) impregnate Kate?
In the scenes that follow in Act 1, Mary’s twins and Kate’s daughter are grown up, haunted by the past, mired in their own confused efforts to find their life paths.
The second act, set during the identical three time periods, reveals more about the background and presents a slightly altered scenario in which the second generation in this overlapping family has made different personal choices.
The script by Noah Kelly and Sarah McKereghan (who comprise Ripe Theatre) is dense, at times poetic, at times surreal, but always intriguing.
Relationships between each pair of characters shift only a little, but enough to make huge differences.
Images and references woven throughout provide a circuitous connecting thread: The blood ties that unite these six people materialize as actual blood, bloody noses, cut fingers and more; ghosts are discussed and appear briefly behind a scrim; and fish, cherries, repeated words and phrases crop up. The unhinged universes that these characters inhabit are spookily similar yet ultimately different.
In such carefully wrought text, it’s a shame that among the six scenes that make up the two acts, the two between Mary’s twins are too long and rambling, and the other four are so tight and sharp. But the six actors — under McKereghan’s assured direction — form an impressive ensemble.
All easily adapt to a performance style that blends naturalism with elegantly choreographed physicality.
This tiny, no-frills company knows how to present an imaginative theatrical vision.
Presented by Ripe Theatre
Where: Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes Feb. 6
Tickets: $15 to $25
Contact: (415) 673-3847, www.theexit.org