The idea of artificially induced intelligence is not necessarily new. (The current movie “Limitless” is about a drug that allows us to access the unused 90 percent of our brainpower.)
But “Wirehead,” a futuristic thriller by Matthew Benjamin and Logan Brown onstage at SF Playhouse, includes clever little details (like cochlear telephone implants; you stick your finger in your ear to talk and jiggle a tooth to adjust reception).
It also has an ever-escalating sense of technology run amok and a moral issue at its core. Under Susi Damilano’s sharp direction, the result is an entertaining dramatic comedy.
Our hero Adams (the always brilliant Craig Marker) and his business colleague, Destry (Gabriel Marin, equally impressive), start out panicked and get increasingly panicky — quite convincingly so — as the action unfolds.
Their accounts are about to be taken over by a formerly hopeless upstart, Hammy (Cole Alexander Smith, excellent in several roles), who has availed himself of the latest technical experiment, the “Z,” being offered by a Chinese mega-corporation. It involves an injection of something mysterious and maybe dangerous that turns you instantly into a brainiac.
When it turns out that Adams’ fiancée, Laura (a graceful Lauren Grace), has signed on for the injection, the stakes rise even higher. Soon nearly everybody’s wigging out.
There’s just the right amount of back-and-forth argument, between Adams and Laura, between Adams and Destry and between the two couples (Destry has a daffy girlfriend of his own, played a bit too broadly by Madeline H.D. Brown), of the ramifications of the injection — which only the rich can afford, and which is permitted only to those who pass a qualifying exam.
In the long run, will society benefit or suffer? Can we assume that because people become smarter they will necessarily be more humanitarian? What happens to the remaining, average IQ shlubs?
Linking the many fast-moving scenes, and observing the action from a shadowy perch, like an indifferent deity, is a motormouth shock jock (an amusingly caustic Scott Coopwood); he fields incoming calls with sarcasm — until he’s called upon to actually give advice.
Perhaps it’s the playwrights’ intention, but it’s disappointing that he ultimately has nothing profound to say.
Also disappointing are the simplistic descriptions of the effects of the Z, and the way the play ratchets up the violence at the end, as if pandering to an audience craving cheap thrills.
But most of the time, this SF Playhouse production, on Bill English’s clever metallic set, is a delight.
Where: SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes April 23
Tickets: $30 to $50
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org