Zach Braff's All New People Is Dark and Quippy at Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe

There's a lot of cinematic shorthand, both literal and figurative, in Zach Braff's All New People, now on stage at Stray Cat Theatre. That's to be expected from Braff, a TV star whose first indie film, Garden State, was a huge critical and commercial success. Braff employs quippy dialogue and big-screen film clips (featuring cameos from some estimable local talent) as exposition, and both filmic tricks help make this slender black comedy a more engaging, if not especially memorable, entertainment.

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At the center of this story, neatly directed by Louis Farber, is Charlie (Michael Peck), depressed and suicidal and convinced he's responsible for the deaths of six people. As the play commences, he is about to hang himself in the borrowed summer home of a college chum. Enter Emma (Angelica Howland), a hyper British leasing agent who's there to rent the property. Wigged out that she's stumbled upon a stranger who's about to kill himself, she phones her friend Myron (Joseph Kremer), the drug-addled local fire chief. While they're busy hinting at their backstories, Kim (Kim Richard), a high-priced prostitute, arrives to console Charlie.

It's plenty of fun to listen to these four recount their lives and what's wrong with them, or just to watch Peck respond to their sassy stories, which he, arguably the leading man here, spends rather a lot of time doing. Done well, excess can be amusing, and Braff's sharp wisecracks about sex, social diseases, and prostitutes and the endless onstage drinking and Hoovering of cocaine are as good as such vulgarity gets.

And so if, despite the enjoyable clatter of dialogue volleyed by these four outcasts, I found myself longing for some more depth to their dark stories, it wasn't because the dialogue was dreary. It was likely because the actors (particularly Howland, as the toilet-mouthed Brit, a more nuanced character and an against-type role that she's obviously savoring) got well past the brisk repartee of a roomful of broken people. If the shenanigans of these young adults occasionally tip over into cheap, easy vulgarity -- as when Myron wins a bet and gets to fondle Kim's breasts for far too long -- it's because these aren't meant to be nuanced characters of great emotional depth. Charlie and his new friends are very much like characters in a pleasantly amusing, late-20th-century sitcom -- which, ultimately, All New People turns out to be.

All New People runs through Sunday, December 22, at Tempe Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15 to $25 via 480-227-1766 or www.straycattheatre.org.

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