The IPO is the thing. High-tech culture takes the spotlight in "Game On," one of the first major theatrical attempts to capture the pulse of Silicon Valley onstage.
This San Jose Repertory Theatre world premiere, written by Berkeley Repertory Theatre artistic director Tony Taccone and Dan Hoyle, takes a tart look at the high-stakes gambling ethos of the venture capital world. Two ne'er-do-wells try to launch their oddball startup at a posh Los Altos dinner party, a tastefully appointed oasis of farm-to-fork nibbles where everybody drives a Prius and $20 million in seed money gets dished out between the soup and nuts. The overwhelming lust for stock options fuels an acerbic plot that could only unfold in the Bay Area. Call it a savvy dot-comedy of manners.
"We are living in the middle of the Gold Rush; this is the engine that drives the American economy," says Rick Lombardo, head of San Jose Rep, where the play is getting its world premiere through April 19. "It's the wild, Wild West and it's time we put that startup venture capital world up on stage and looked at it."
In the spotlight
Like the new TV show "Silicon Valley," which premieres Sunday, and recent films such "The Social Network," "Jobs" and the Google comedy "The Internship," "Game On" explores the terrain of the get-rich-quick lifestyle of this digital mecca. With a decidedly snarky edge. Starring notable Bay Area actors Marco Barricelli and Craig Marker, the comedy holds up a mirror to the high-pressure environment in which everyone is racing to launch the next gizmo that will turn the world on its ear.
"This is a land of zillionaires. People come here trying to win the lottery," says Taccone. "You invent some app or some device, and you put it out into the world and hope it goes global. The saying is that anyone can make a million, but can you make a billion?"
Taccone also wrote the play "Ghost Light," about the life of Cal Shakes director Jonathan Moscone and the assassination of his father, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone; Hoyle displayed a flair for exposé with such solo works as "Tings Dey Happen" and "The Real Americans." The two say they wanted to make sure the play was grounded in reality, so they consulted numerous insiders to get the jargon and the pace just right in this pointed spoof.
"We vetted a lot of the play, particularly the big pitch, with hedge fund guys," says Taccone, "because we wanted to make sure it sounded like a legitimately good pitch."
Tackling the issues
Over the years, Taccone has made his name by championing bold new works, from Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" to Green Day's "American Idiot," that thrust modern-day issues onto center stage.
For its part, San Jose Rep has long prided itself on examining the local zeitgeist. The company delved into the quixotic nature of tech bubbles with Anthony Clarvoe's "Ctrl+Alt+Delete" in 2001. But "Game On" digs far more deeply into the dark side of life in high-tech age, from the desperation of the underclass to the looming environmental issues that cast a cloud over the partying billionaires.
"Sure, part of the play is an outrageous sendup that satirizes what it is like to live in the valley, but the core of it will be very recognizable to the Rep theatergoers," says Lombardo, who dabbled in finance before finding his calling in the arts. "A lot of my audience knows just what it is like to try and land that angel investor. "
Grabbing for the brass ring in a culture always chasing the next big thing means being so far ahead of the curve it's dizzying. For two down-on-their-luck guys, Alvin (the numbers guy) and Vinnie (a cabbie with great ideas), that means pitching bugs as a sustainable food source in the age of global warming where water is scarce and cows aren't environmentally friendly. If the high-protein scheme doesn't pan out, there's always online gambling over endangered species. Imagine the point spread on polar bears.
The wealth factor
Hoyle, who came of age as the valley went from the first dot-com boom (and bust) and the Web 2.0 push to the app explosion, says the region's tremendous wealth creation has impacted the way we feel about money, identity and self-esteem.
"Everyone in my generation has that nagging feeling that you should be getting in on the technification of our culture," says Hoyle, 33, who is best known as a solo performer. "Why aren't I inventing an app to revolutionize the way you find the best dim sum?"
The politics of the new economy are at the heart of "Game On." As a blue-collar guy, Vinnie (Barricelli) feels invisible in the land of the ultrarich. Alvin (Marker), who had money but lost it, is besieged by bitterness and regret. Neither is technically poor, but in this milieu of personal helicopter pads and million dollar teardowns, they might as well be.
"Money is addictive; it's like crack," Taccone says. "Venture capitalists are part of the big money machine. These are the guys who run the world."
By Dan Hoyle Tony Taccone
Through: April 19
Where: San Jose Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose
Tickets: $29-$74; 408-367-7255, www.sjrep.com