Flannel, bodices, huge cell phones, and pick-axes are the rage in Clementine and the Cyber Ducks, a jaunty steampunk mashup of 1840s gold rush and 1990s dot-com boom, staged as part of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater’s Incubator program. Clementine (Emily Perkins), doomed heroine of that sad-sad song, moves to California with her protective father (Ben Beckley) and falls in love with a prospector of the digital sort (Edward Bauer)—a web-startup hopeful clad in baggy-jeaned nerd splendor. Three Pinteresque ducks, beaks hilariously fashioned from plastic visors, wander around menacing people with ominously delivered financial advice…and groping them. The pre-9/11 nostalgia is fleeting, however, for soon Clementine’s sister (Cara Francis), 19th-century pioneer stock to the core, comes kicking her way into the proceedings with a shotgun slung over her shoulder. She’s bitter at having been ditched back in the Southeast. Temporal disorientation is complete as Clementine’s boyfriend digs the newcomer’s “hearty,” practical sensibility and tries to enlist her in his venture.
Thankfully, playwright Krista Knight, director Jess Chayes, and the Assembly theater ensemble have complete faith in every aspect of their wacked-out concept—their comedy stems from the organic merger of the bizarre elements on stage, not self-conscious jokes about the anachronism of it all. The play’s main problem is its brevity: clocking in at 1 hour and 15 minutes, it feels truncated, and the ending is abrupt. It could’ve used another twist or two. But like a speculative bubble, Cyber Ducks’s manic-absurd energy might be too hard to sustain for long.