Sunstone Studios and Mad Rogues open the 2021/2022 season with a crazy, absurdist 90-minute comedy. Set in a small apartment in San Francisco, Lauren Gunderson’s Toil and Trouble takes elements from Macbeth and playfully warps them around a cleverly bizarre contemporary buddy comedy. Director Linetta Alexander Islam uses the tiny space of Sunstone to lock-in the deliciously weird madness of three unstable friends and the dreams of fortune which draw them against each other. It’s a refreshing reboot for the tiny space across from The Rep that had been occupied by the Off The Wall Theatre for so long.
Adam Qutaishat plays a guy named Adam who may as well be a personification of Southern California itself. In our hearts, we all want Southern California to exist, but we all know it’s just an illusion conjured by an entertainment industry which doesn’t really exist either. The Adam that Adam is playing is a lot like that: dreams too big to possibly be anything other than true. And so when they turn out to actually have some grounding in reality, it warps reality. Qutaishat brilliantly follows the casual insanity of a guy who seems to grab success by virtue of being too ignorant to know what he can’t do. There’s a nice guy charm in that which fuses with a cleverly understated sense of sophistication.
Adam’s dream haunt a humble, little San Francisco apartment that’s been conjured into existence onstage in a sideways thrust sort of an arrangement in the Sunstone. Sit in the middle of a single line of seats and you’re like...right in front of the couch. (So cool: it's like watching the weirdest possible one-camera video sitcom.) Adam isn’t the only resident of the apartment. There’s also Matt. Matt is even more of a dreamer than Adam. Adam’s got a MBA, so his dreams are tied to business. Matt’s dreams aren’t really tied to anything. He’s a deeply philosophical guy played with great, goofy heart and irresistible emotional intensity by Joel Kopischke.
As the play opens, Matt is tolerating Adam’s brainstorming for new businesses. In the end, the craziest one actually sounds the most plausible: the two decide to take over a small island off the coast of Chile...sort of. If they’re going to be able to do anything with their plans, they’re going to have to enlist the help of their friend Beth. Beth is an over-the-air sports reporter with great ambitions stunningly played with comically inflated ambition by Maggie Marks. At first, Beth is reluctant to agree to Adam and Matt’s strange psychotic business fugue...but she realizes the potential power in it. Beth and Matt become...MattBeth...an unstoppable force that begins to wonder just how necessary Adam really is. Scheming and treachery follow. Blood is shed. It's a comedy.
It’s all so very, very absurd. The cast holds the totally bonkers script together in a way that makes it feel almost believable. Gunderson has left just enough believability between the weird references to Macbeth and odd tangential sci-fi clustering around the edges of the absurdity. It all feels just grounded enough to keep the weirdness from annihilating the emotional gravity that keeps the comedy firmly rooted in very real human emotions between three people who have no business being together and really no reason for being alone either. It’s a very tightly-produced comedy on a appealingly small stage.
Sunstone Studios and Mad Rogues’ production of Toil and Trouble runs through Oct. 2nd at Sunstone’s space on 127 E. Wells St. For more information, visit Sunstone online.