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THEATER REVIEW: "The Tragedy Of The Commons" is a work in progress

If, as they say, change is the only immutable fact of life, Dakin Adams (Jim Winker) is going to have a hard time of it: he’s had about all the change he can stand.

Dakin and his wife Macy (Veronica Murphy) suffered a nearly unbearable alteration in their lives when elder son Spencer (Francis Gercke) became a 9/11 victim. And then he was fired from his teaching job for “losing it.”

Still, they have their comfortable La Jolla home with a large terrace and a spectacular ocean view, where Macy busies herself with the garden and her bridge-playing friends.

But Dakin finds it too difficult to move on with his life. He has instead pulled into his shell and entered the blogosphere, writing (mostly on environmental topics) to nameless and faceless readers, occasionally talking to Spencer’s ghost (his “muse”) and wishing his next-door neighbor Carl would cut the oleanders that impinge on his view.

Cygnet Theatre presents its first world premiere, Stephen Metcalfe’s “The Tragedy Of The Commons,” through Feb. 20, with Sean Murray at the helm.

Dakin is a man stuck – in grief, fear, anger and resentment – and inside himself, where Macy can no longer reach him.

Things go even further south when next-door neighbor Carl Mendleson (Tim West) announces that he and his wife are selling their house and moving to Seattle. Now Dakin has something else to worry about: Will the new owners build up, blocking the only pleasure he has left – his view?

Metcalfe has a facility for poetic language and gets in a trenchant line or a one-line zinger now and again (he wrote the screenplay for “Pretty Woman,” among others). He’s also had Dakin’s experience: he lives in La Jolla and once had his view threatened by a proposed building.

But to hang the denouement of this play on something as cosmically insignificant as loss of a view – annoying as that may be – while ignoring Dakin’s more important issues seems to be going down the wrong alley.

Winker’s performance is compelling, quite a feat given that Dakin’s actions sometimes make no sense. The always-reliable Gercke is excellent as son Spencer, his entrances and exits accompanied by George Yé’s fine sound design.

West has the thankless task of making Carl something he isn’t: an interesting character. Metcalfe has written him as a wine snob and villain. How do you play that when a benign action like selling your house is considered villainy?

A plot twist I didn’t mention brings in two other characters – Manny Fernandes, convincing as Dakin’s younger son Alan, ignored and sometimes insulted by his own father – when he’s only trying to help.

The last character is Diane (Monique Gaffney), a fashionable, high-powered but unaccountably brittle speculator who buys Carl’s house with the intent of reselling. Gaffney is terrific, but the character’s arc as written doesn’t make a lot of sense.

There is much to like here – Sean Fanning’s set, the poetry of Metcalfe’s writing, Yé’s sound design, a talented group of actors and good direction. This play could use a rewrite, but Cygnet deserves applause for stepping into uncharted waters.

The details

“The Tragedy Of The Commons” runs through Feb. 20 at Cygnet’s Old Town Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

For tickets, call (619) 337-1525 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.