‘Trouble Cometh’ cleverly takes on reality TV 

click to enlarge Kyle Cameron and Liz Sklar appear in San Francisco Playhouse’s world premiere of “Trouble Cometh,” a dark and entertaining satire by Richard Dresser. - COURTESY JESSICA PALOPOLI
  • Kyle Cameron and Liz Sklar appear in San Francisco Playhouse’s world premiere of “Trouble Cometh,” a dark and entertaining satire by Richard Dresser.

In Richard Dresser’s crisp and unsettling satire, “Trouble Cometh,” a world premiere at San Francisco Playhouse, Joe – a slightly nebbishy Everyman – just got a great job.

After 18 months of unemployment, he has been hired to help develop a new reality show for a major network. His neurotically self-conscious fiancée, Susan (Marissa Keltie), got him the gig — although we don’t know how, since she herself is not working there.

The anxious and too-eager-to-please Joe (Kyle Cameron) is assigned to work with sarcastic, viciously condescending boss Dennis (Patrick Russell). The two have a very short timeframe within which to come up with a new concept (“changing the face of reality television!”) to pitch to a senior executive, who may or may not have just died from a brain injury.

Their assistant, Kelly (Liz Sklar), kitted out in an array of impossibly glamorous outfits and killer heels (costumes by Tatjana Genser), proves irresistibly attractive (and apparently attracted) to Joe, who starts regretting his recent engagement to the plainer Susan. Kelly would be a good wife for right now, he confides to Dennis; Susan for later in life. In fact, sexy Kelly seems irresistible to everyone.

When Joe and Dennis do at last come up with a winning – and outrageous, ethically appalling – idea for a reality show called “The Hand of God” to present to the top brass on the 11th floor, things take an unexpected and potentially dangerous turn. “This is life and death,” Kelly informs Joe. She’s not kidding.

Joe, pathetically desperate to succeed at his job, is willing to believe anything. And do anything.

Dresser’s taut, rapid-fire dialogue keeps the 90-minute play, which unfolds in a series of short, punchy scenes, moving along at just the right pace. Astute director May Adrales pays careful attention to comic timing, ably carried out by her excellent cast (which includes Nandita Shenoy).

As always at San Francisco Playhouse, the production values are high. Nina Ball’s stark, minimalist set efficiently doubles as both a fluorescent-lit ultra-modern rectangle of an office and a swank cocktail lounge, and sound designer Theodore J.H. Hulsker provides an appropriately nerve-jangling background score along the way.

The playwright’s vision of what’s at stake in the cut-throat world of TV – and, to extrapolate from that, perhaps in our rapacious society at large – is truly dark. And truly entertaining.


Trouble Cometh

Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., S.F.

When: Tuesdays-Sundays: closes June 27

Tickets: $20 to $120

Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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