Monkey Room


Through May 4. Tickets are $20-$45; 441-8822 or
The Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Laguna at Marina), S.F.

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The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation commissioned this play as part of an initiative to explore the worlds of science and technology through theater. The result feels a bit like a hybrid of medical science documentary and soap opera, with a little of the racing-against-the-clock of Kiefer Sutherland in 24. Set in a meticulously detailed research lab (designed by James Faerron), Monkey Room is a peek into the behind-the-scenes drama of scientist Ava (the excellent Lauren Grace), who is desperately trying not to have her funding cut while working on a potential breakthrough HIV vaccine. Playwright Kevin Fisher is an HIV vaccine researcher himself, and does his best to mine the inherent drama of this high-stakes field, but there is an odd combination of elements at play. An awkward romance is written in, and this is also meant to be a bit of comic relief, but it dilutes the pressure-cooker plot. Ava insists her employees work through the night because the research is paramount, yet she has no trouble spending the evening getting down on the couch. While the acting is top-notch and some questions brought up with the author's insider's view are intriguing — and most certainly current — there seems to be no new insight shed on this important topic, and that's too bad.

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