San Francisco Quirk

'Trenchcoat in Common' leavens heady subjects with humor

‘This is a very busy time for me, shows opening all over,” enthuses Bay Area playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, speaking from Wooly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C., where his newest show,
The Totalitarians, opened recently. “It’s a dark comedy,” Nachtrieb says of the sharp-witted political satire.

Of course, the phrase “dark comedy” pretty much describes everything Nachtrieb writes, including the offbeat T.I.C. (Trenchcoat in Common), opening this weekend at Main Stage West in Sebastopol.

Directed by Sheri Lee Miller, the play features Ivy Rose Miller as a teenage girl who starts a blog about the strange people who live in her San Francisco apartment building.

“It’s got every archetype of a Bay Area inhabitant you can think of,” says Nachtrieb. “I wanted to populate the play with lots of different types, people we don’t really know very much about, but who we see every day.”

Asked if his characters spring from his imagination or are suggested by real folks he’s actually encountered, Nachtrieb laughs.

“Well, I don’t know that many flasher-exhibitionists,” he allows, referring to one colorful character played by Gary Grossman. “That character did emerge out of my own head, but most of the other characters are suggested by people I’ve observed, people who just seem very serious, very single-minded and driven by different causes, though I don’t always know what those causes are.”

In the case of T.I.C., those “causes” take the story in some pretty unexpected directions, plunging our young protagonist into a weirdly funny, but potentially dangerous, world. As a playwright specializing in dark comedies, Nachtrieb knows he must maintain a very a careful balance between what is funny and what is “dark.”

“It’s that tension between the lighter moments and the darker ones that I really like exploring,” says Nachtrieb, who honed his skills writing for the beloved Bay Area comedy troupe Killing My Lobster. “My background is in writing sketch comedy, so the funny stuff is kind of my ‘sweet spot.’ With my plays, I always want to tackle serious issues, serious ideas, but it’s always through the lens of comedy, because that’s just how I see things.”

It has been pointed out that many of Nachtrieb’s characters are, for lack of a better terms, a little “inappropriate,” like the flasher in T.I.C.

“Yes,” he laughs. “And one thing I’ve found is that the characters who are the most fun to write, are the ones who are the most inappropriate.”

‘T.I.C. (Trenchcoat in Common)’ runs Thursday–Sunday, June 13–June 29 at Main Stage West. 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thursday–Saturday, 8pm; 5pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. $15–$25. 707.823.0177

Sonoma County Library