The first thing to know about My Girlfriend Is an Alien! by Keith DeFacto is that the play isn’t written by somebody named Keith DeFacto. It has no extraterrestrials in it, nor is it a prequel to the 1950s proto-feminist drive-in classic I Married a Monster From Outer Space. In fact, nothing in Neil McGowan’s topsy-turvy, Pirandellian funhouse of a romantic comedy is exactly what its camp title suggests — beginning with its ostensible object of desire.
Like any metatheatrical journey, the true object of McGowan’s love story is as much the theater as it is the fractured romance of its putative lovers. From the moment sad-sack actor-director-playwright Keith DeFacto (the marvelous Keith Stevenson) opens with a curtain-speech apology for the evening — “It’s just not very good. It’s just not original,” he sheepishly stammers to the audience — McGowan’s ironic tangle of the personal and the “fictional” becomes a kind of jaundiced love letter to the peculiar-to-L.A., 99-seat-or-less subspecies of storefront, DIY theater that he is simultaneously sending up and celebrating.
The narrative’s dizzying cascade of ironies inside ironies includes the lurching and technically inept opening-night performance of My Girlfriend Is an Alien!, an overly familiar script about the infatuation of a lovestruck office worker (Stevenson) for his oddly eccentric cubicle neighbor Carol (Carole Weyers). The fact that the first scene bears more than a passing resemblance to now-hoary TV sitcom fare, ranging from Third Rock From the Sun to Mork & Mindy (with Weyers’ weirdly funny, pinched diction and robotic delivery serving as a kind of verbal equivalent to a conehead) is just one of the evening’s running gags.
When a series of lighting miscues and clumsy scene changes allows Keith to break character, he confesses to fellow actor Brian (Brian Letscher) and the audience that much of the play has been stolen wholesale. His real intent in mounting the production, Keith eventually admits, is simply to bring within romantic striking distance Carol, an actress whom he has long worshipped from afar. (Keith’s neurotic dating philosophy is of the “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member” variety.) But in true sitcom-boilerplate fashion, his very admission of plagiarism unwittingly triggers inevitable romantic complications even as it pushes the play-within-the-play completely off its rails.
For fans of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the mounting chaos and whimsically absurd descent into surreal fantasy will strike an immediately recognizable chord. Like Kaufman, McGowan freely bends storytelling reality conventions in order to open an area between dreams and desire, the fantastic and the unconscious, which allows him to comically unmask the obsessional fears and self-loathing that lurk behind the artistic impulse.
Unlike Kaufman, however, McGowan’s playful liberties ultimately lapse into contrivances so broad that they violate the very logic of his own imagined world — a defect that is most deeply felt in Act 3’s precipitous plunge into the patently implausible. Despite its hallucinatory nature, the play’s laughter is nevertheless dependent on the larger shared reality — and self-conscious presence — of the audience, which is effectively conscripted as an active character in the narrative. The play loses sight of that around the hour mark, to the peril of its flagging momentum.
Fortunately, under Guillermo Cienfuegos’ crisp and dynamic direction, enough of My Girlfriend Is an Alien! connects to distinguish McGowan as a writer of mordant wit and outlandish invention. And though the strong ensemble (which includes Elspeth Weingarten, Michael Prichard, Dan Cole and Sophie Pollono) clearly revels in the possibilities offered by McGowan’s off-kilter hall-of-mirrors meta-theatrics, the coup of the evening is the teaming of Stevenson and Weyers, whose commitment and daffy comic chemistry is an unwavering delight.
Pacific Resident Theatre, 707 Venice Blvd., Venice; through Oct. 2. (310) 822-8392, pacificresidenttheatre.com.