ACT’s MFA students frolic in kiddie Litter

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ACT’s Master of Fine Arts Program members, all 12 of them, star in the world premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Litter at Zeum Theater. Below: the Framingham Dodecatuplets confer on an important family matter. Photos by Alessandra Mello

It’s a busy late winter for San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and the busy-ness has a lot to do with unusual births.

Later this month at the Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Nachtrieb will premiere BOB, an “epic journey in just five acts” about a man born in a White Castle bathroom.

Closer to home, Nachtrieb is upping the baby ante but in only one act. Litter: The Story of the Framingham Dodecatuplets was written for the 12 students of American Conservatory Theater’s Master of Fine Arts Program Class of 2011. The comedy, complete with original songs, had its world premiere over the weekend at the Zeum Theater.

If you know Nachtrieb from his plays boom or Hunter Gatherers, you know that he is, in a word, hilarious. His comedy has edge and it can be heartfelt. He can slice you up and make it seem like the nicest possible thing to do.

Any opportunity to see a new Nachtrieb work is well worth taking, even when the results, like Litter are still the embryonic stage.

For most of its 90 minutes, Litter, as directed by Mark Rucker, ACT’s new associate artistic director, is a heck of a lot of fun. On a set that looks like it was borrowed from a ‘70s variety show (design by Liliana Duque-Pineiro), we find the Framingham Dodecatuplets in performance at the Concord Senior Center.

Once celebrated for being a happy, singing-and-dancing brood of 12, the dodecatuplets have fallen on hard times. We learn that their mother died during their birth. In fact, we learn she insisted on it. They once had hit records but have now hit hard times.

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Now in their early ‘20s, the Framinghams are all different shapes, colors and sizes. Their lifetime sponsorship by Minute Maid fruit juices means they’ll always have some sort of nutrition in their lives, but lately, that’s about all they have.

They don’t have names but rather numbers, and they wear plush velour track suits (costumes by Callie Floor), further obscuring their identities and their adulthood. They harbor a lot of hostility toward one another, and their collective future is questionable, to say the least.

As a showpiece for the MFA dozen, Litter certainly does the trick. Each actor gets to highlight a custom-made Framingham quirk. For instance, Patrick Lane as 9 plays the violin and tells fart jokes. Ashley Wickett as 1 is the Type-A overachiever de facto leader. And Brian Clark Jansen is the webcam-loving horndog of the group.

The actors attack their roles with enviable energy, and they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. I was most impressed by Dan Clegg as 8, the dodecatuplet with the enigmatic British accent. His character is probably the most interesting because he’s the most rebellious. Also impressive are Marisa Duchowny as 6, the one in the middle who (like Jan Brady before her) suffers from invisible child syndrome (but then kicks some serious ass as a leather-clad journalist), and Richardson Jones as 2, the quippy, fashion-loving gay one. His every line, even when it’s not a punch line, is funny.

As much fun as the play is, the plot runs out of stem in the final third, and by the end, Nachtrieb seems to just give up on trying to find anything but the most ordinary ending. Any sense of the Framingham’s as faded celebrities or having any sort of pop-culture cachet has vanished. While erstwhile Bradys and Partridges, Osmonds and New Kids on the Block can’t escape their fame or notoriety, but, seemingly, the Framinghams can.

Nachtrieb breaks up the family group and sends its individual members out into the harsh world to make in on their own, but we never hear about them bumping up against their once sparkling celebrity. There’s a reunion at the end, and the fact that it’s not televised on VH-1 makes it seem like an event from a parallel universe.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Litter: The Story of the Framingham Dodecatuplets continues through March 19 at Zeum Theater in Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth and Howard streets, San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$15. Call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

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