You are probably familiar with the scene, and perhaps it even repeats in your own living room: Someone who's electronically connected with the rest of the world perches over a laptop, alternately engaging in what's going on in the room and what's going on beyond the screen he cradles in his hands.
If you poke this person with a stick, he or she seems to be aware of you and the others in the room, but also engaged with cruising across myriad electronic pathways in an effort to stay as current as the nanosecond hand on an atomic clock. You see it all over the place, from park benches and BART trains to restaurants and even the back row of some theaters.
Disparagers would blast it as so much silicon heroin, but for many, this connection to everything else is as necessary as air.
It's a condition that's rife with peril, as explored hilariously in Dorothy Fortenberry's "Status Update," currently getting its world premiere by Center Repertory Company, as part of its Off Center series of edgier plays.
The play tells the story of Annabel (Rosie Hallett), a young woman who recently moved to Phoenix with her husband, Brian (Ben Euphrat), and works at home altering images with Photoshop. He's a teacher, so she spends a lot of time alone and has created a busy life for herself in the electronic fast lane.
When we join the couple, Brian is headed home and Annabel sits in her pajamas at her computer, engaging in various online rituals: Twitter, Facebook and the other time-sinks that keep people glued to their tubes.
She isn't particularly pleased to see Brian, who suggests that she might change her clothes because they have company coming to celebrate her birthday.
She's not pleased with that, either, especially the fact that they are Brian's friends and there is nothing in the house for them to eat, except crackers and peanut butter. She tosses a tray of crackers and a peanut butter jar at Niko (Darren Bridgett) and Zar (Lynda DiVito) after they arrive. The couple and Brian chat awkwardly while Annabel, lost in her own world, seems captivated by a Keyboard Cat (Joel Roster) who, invisible to the others, wants to take Annabel on a magical tour into the depths and backwaters of the Internet.
The play seems here to be developing into something of a blend of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" But all the while, Fortenberry explores the as-yet-untamed electronic wilderness, making wry comments on the nature of the beast and the beasts who roam its computer-paved trails.
She has given her actors some delightfully funny and current dialogue -- in fact a recent performance referenced the David Petraeus scandal, on the very day the news broke. Under the deft direction by Becca Wolff, the cast jumps on the material wonderfully in this play with music (by the playwright's husband, Colin Wambsgans) played mostly by the singing Keyboard Cat on, what else, a keyboard. There are also vivid, and occasionally hilarious, video projects by Kerstin Hovland that enhance the idea of the Internet's engulfing distractions.
There is seduction in many flavors here, and many piercing observations from Niko and Zar, who have in mind a kinky evening that neither Annabel nor Brian is expecting.
There are still some bugs to worked out. But in the main, the play is well-written, and in this case tremendously well-acted.
By Dorothy Fortenberry;
presented by Center
Through: Nov. 18
Where: Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 1 hour,
Tickets: $25-$35; 925-943-7469 or www.centerrep.org