Arts Listings

TheatreFirst Stages Stephen Brown’s ‘Future Me’

By Ken Bullock, Special to The Planet
Tuesday April 08, 2008

Empathy—it’s a muscle. If you don’t use it, it wastes away.” What “society’s monsters”—that is, child molesters—experience, in Stephen Brown’s play Future Me at the Berkeley City Club, seems to have little to do with empathy—with their victims, from society, with themselves.  

But this uncanny exploration of this difficult subject manages to open up a hidden world, unknown territory even to its troubled inhabitants, avoiding melodrama as well as the temptation to resolve a complex human tragedy with assertions or answers in scenes that follow the tortuous path of a seemingly normal, even successful offender, from the moment an e-mail from his computer is sent out to everyone in his address book with a child porn photo attached. 

“It hasn’t crashed—more of a malfunction.”  

Right from the start, ironic lines highlight questions that are never answered, true dramatic, living ambiguity. Is Peter (Dana Jepsen)—a mature, charming London attorney with everything going for him—outed by a bizarre technical accident or by an unacknowledged wish to get caught? The text of the play makes no comment on this incident or the others that follow, offers no speculation nor whisper of inference, just the events as they unfold in time—a time of duration which ripens certain memories and reflections, while others become more elusive. 

The scenes cluster around relationships—Peter with his journalist girlfriend Jenny (Maggie Mason), with his techie brother Mike (Ryan Purcell) and their always-offstage father, with other offenders both sympathetic (Dana Kelly as Harry) and rowdy or mocking (Ryan Purcell as Patrick, Peter Ruocco as Tim), as well as with a rehab specialist (TheatreFIRST founding member Alison Studdiford as Ellen).  

In a challenging role, Dana Jepsen plays both protagonist and straightman, seemingly amazed by his own story, only gradually able to begin to see the part he played in making it. This corresponds to an unusual feature in Brown’s dramaturgy: the ongoing sense of hiddenness and revelation, of something shown both obliquely, yet very directly. 

The whole cast, with Dylan Russell’s careful direction, explores this minefield of concealed and overt emotions in nuanced performances, each with an individual point of view, the perspectives contradicting, overlapping, or snarling up—as when Harry, a lifelong offender, chides Peter for missing his cry for help (which the audience may very well admit to having missed as well), or Jenny, in a tension-filled confrontation with Ellen, tells of the terrible fantasy in lovemaking of being a child victim. 

But there’s much humor, and the irony’s never cold, often communicated through puns in language and situation. Meeting again, once they’re “out,” Peter and Harry talk about life, staying clean and temptation—at the dog races: “We went to the dogs.” Harry’s genial, even eager awkwardness is expressed through some bad pub guitar. The moods shift subtly as the questions turn, displaying different facets and reflections. 

“Sometimes I can sit quite outside myself,” Peter says, maybe echoing the thoughts of a spectator of this exploration of engagement and detachment, in which achieving or even just thinking about your desires may get you “more than you wanted—exactly what you wanted.”  



Presented by TheatreFirst at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. $23-$28.