‘CURRENT NOBODY’ by Just Theater

Saturday night I went to see Just Theater’s West Coast premiere of Melissa James Gibson’s Current Nobody. I’ve seen everything that Just Theater’s done and am consistently impressed by the production levels these guys bring to small theater. Sets (by Logan Granger), lights (by Stephanie Buchner), video (by Wesley Cabral) and sound (by Dina Maccabee) are stunning — especially considering that this is the same theater where we’re used to seeing ultra-low-budget fringe festival pieces.

Jonathon Spector, who’s the co-AD of the group and director of the play, has a great aesthetic. He’s worked with Marcus Gardley, Shelia Callaghan, Elizabeth Meriwether and a bunch of other writers who have a keen command of language and who write fresh, surprising, contemporary plays.

And this play fits right in there. It’s a modern take on Homer’s The Odyssey that reverses the genders. Suddenly, instead of Odysseus (Ryan O’Donnell) heroically leaving to fight a war, it’s Penelope (Arwen Anderson) who leaves her husband and daughter (Danielle Levin) to photograph a war. Instead of male suitors attempting to win the abandoned wife, it’s three female indie docu-filmmakers (Lindsey Gates, Michelle Pava Mills, Lizzie Calogero) who try to woo the husband. And of course, you remember Homer’s doorman Bill (Michael Barret Austin) who buzzes up from the lobby with portents of doom.

I really loved this play. There have been a whole host of plays out there that are modern versions of myths, and I’ve seen quite a few, but none have amazed me as much as this one. I think, in the end, even with the fantastic sets and direction and video and sound, it’s Melissa James Gibson’s script that makes it a wonderful piece of art. She uses modern-day language in such a precise way that it’s elevated to poetry — and yet still conversational, contemporary and real. She makes the characters real and believable and relatable. And she sets up several incredible moments — some funny, some dramatic, some heartbreaking — that make for a really terrific night of theater.

Melissa James Gibson’s Current Nobody at Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy Street, SF, through Dec 13. Tickets at justtheater.org.