A "carapace" refers to the protective shell of a turtle or tortoise. When the idea turns up in a play you can bet it's symbolic of a character's, you know, protective shell.
Symbols are tricky, though, and in the new play called "Carapace" at B Street Theatre's B3 Series, just who has or needs the carapace never becomes entirely clear.
The confusion doesn't completely derail young playwright David Mitchell Robinson's sometimes listless drama, which manages a few bright spots among its too-familiar characters and situations.
B Street stalwart Dave Pierini finds himself center stage here as Jeff, a Minneapolis-based sportscaster. Jeff has a drinking problem which has put him in and out of rehab centers, and we assume it busted up his marriage. The carapace may refer to the alcoholic shell Jeff has erected around himself as he makes his way through his disengaged existence.
Jeff's drinking has also alienated his now-adult daughter Margo, and the main action of the play follows Jeff on an ill-fated attempt to undo damage he's inflicted on Margo with an intentionally symbolic gesture of reconciliation.
One contrivance tilts the story with its weight. Robinson has given Margo a debilitating stutter. Stephanie Altholz is the game actress saddled with the anvil-like device that is central to Robinson's plot but feels an unnecessary gimmick.
One could argue that Robinson's machinations put shells around all his characters. Plenty of heavy-seeming stuff happens to them, but it doesn't move us all that much. The actors labor at pulling the play together.
There's some uneasy humor through a couple of quirky characters played by the terrific Greg Alexander, and the comedy works better than the drama.
Director Jerry Montoya stages a lean, brisk production with an economical set design from Samantha Reno. Playwright Robinson could perhaps use fewer symbols and more complex motivations.
The production's most engaging scene involves B Street intern James Arakas, who has an easygoing but sinewy presence.
Arakas' Kyle runs a pet store that Jeff rolls into at the last minute trying to buy a tortoise for Margo. Kyle recognizes Jeff from rehab but, deeper still, he remembers how Jeff was then and clearly doesn't trust him with a living thing now. There's tension and conflict in the exchange resulting in a moment of honest urgency from Jeff that we never feel in the rest of the play.
★ ★ 1/2
What: The West Coast premiere of David Mitchell Robinson's drama about an alcoholic father delivering a birthday gift to his adult daughter.
When: Continues 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Thursdays and 1 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 24.
Where: B Street Theatre B3 Stage, 2727 B St., Sacramento
Information: (916) 443-5300 or www.bstreettheatre.org
Time: 90 minutes with no intermission