The world of Steven Dietz’s prefab play isn’t so much random as it is highly coincidental. But then This Random World makes for a much bolder title than This Highly Coincidental World. By any name, Dietz’s world is one in which connectivity pervades, and Facebook has nothing to do with it. Fatalistic Beth Ward (Lisel Gorell-Getz) gets a kick out of Googling obits of others with her same name, and she urges her sad-sack brother Tim (Kevin Hafso-Koppman) to do so, while also fearing that their mother Scottie (Anne Gee Byrd) is at death’s door. Before leaving on a trip purposely “off the grid” to Nepal, Beth not so casually inquires about Tim’s long-past girlfriend, Claire (Diana Irvine).
Well, what do you know? Tim proceeds to post a faux obit of himself, and it’s seen by Claire, who has just been dumped by Gary (Patrick Zeller), who happens to meet Beth while climbing a mountain in Nepal. Mother Scottie, meanwhile, has instructed the sister (Ava Hill) of her caregiver (Yolanda Franklin) to travel to Japan on a benedictive quest where ultimately she meets, of course, Beth, whose Nepal trip was waylaid.
These serpentine machinations aside, North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of This Random World is a satisfying one, and in spite of the play’s love of weighty platitudes, it’s often quite funny. Irvine, for example, makes Claire’s case of neurotic low-self-esteem an art form, as does Hafso-Koppman with Tim’s hapless confusion. This raises the question of what those two characters were like when they actually were a couple. A shrink’s dream?
Director David Ellenstein keeps all the plates spinning in this one-act show, which consists of short scenes that pair up its characters in various venues and in various serendipitous – or not so serendipitous – situations. In spite of the fact that the random encounters in the script are mostly very foreseeable, Dietz has crafted a world of characters whose personal dimensions transcend their mere place in his game of chance. Each longs for something that he or she doesn’t possess, and with the exception of Scottie, confident dispenser of the play’s aphorisms about life and death, each has a restless heart. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 2/28/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.