The Drilling Company and Project Theater’s Mangella is a peculiar piece of work. The first act of this sci-fi/comedy/cyber-thriller is both clever and inexplicable: mixing inventive set pieces and pure oddity, it entertains yet sorely lacks in cohesion. But the second act draws the disjointed elements together ingeniously. It’s a high-wire act you keep expecting to turn disastrous, yet somehow does not.
Protagonist Ned (Anthony Manna) seems a harmless man-child introvert of the basement-dwelling variety. His existence is centered on his computer, which he’s named “Gabriella”—seen in human form (Ali Perlwitz) with a monitor on her chest and a keyboard across her lap. It’s a co-dependent and eroticized relationship: When he begs off checking his Facebook to go do his chores, she purrs, “I have porn!”; later he seduces her by cleaning her keyboard for dust. That’s a funny bit, transcending possible crassness thanks to Perlwitz, a game performer with ripe comic timing.
Ned is caring for his father (Bob Austin McDonald), who has dementia. At the old man’s prodding, Ned gets him a Craigslist hooker (Hannah Wilson), and that’s when the unexpected, sci-fi–tinged complications ensue. Ken Ferrigni’s plot unspools gracefully, and though the specifics (too clever to spoil here) court silliness, the urgency of both the writing and Joe Jung’s direction is genuine, and the performances are outstanding—Manna navigates the tonal shifts skillfully, while Wilson does sexy/mysterious and sincere/verbose with equal dexterity.
Jung’s production has its fumbles: A couple of scenes run on too long, some early stylistic choices (like the use of silhouettes) are off-putting, and the blocking is often flat. But Mangella is a smart and unpredictable play, and a risky one too—primarily in the trust and patience it requires of its viewers. In this case, it’s a risk that pays off handsomely.