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It happens to every critic sooner or later: You end up at a show where there are more people in the production than in the audience. Four of us came to see UpShot at a recent Sunday matinee, far fewer than Forum Theatre & Dance had mustered to mount Ami Dayan’s existentialist comedy-drama. The production itself further heightened the sense of isolation: Entering the theater, we were met with the sounds of swirling winds and the icy embrace of a well-functioning air-conditioning system. The play’s opening image is also chilling: a man—called Man—standing still, stolid-faced, on a raised block as he brings a mimed pistol to his temple and shoots. “I am speaking to you from the future,” he intones. He goes on to tell us that he’s been playing Russian roulette for years on this date—the anniversary of the day the world ended. Each year he adds a bullet to the gun; this time, the chambers are full. Cut to stage right, where, at a desk cluttered with Diet Coke, Red Bull, and a coffee cup, among other detritus, a writer in plaid pajamas frantically wars with his text. He’s John, a would-be playwright whose wife has gone back to work, soon after their child’s birth, to support him in his dream of finishing his script. It’s a heavy thing, about this last man on Earth, and John struggles to make it funny—and maybe even to make it a vehicle for the current California governor: “Existential sci-fi, live onstage, with Arnold!” he fantasizes. Playwright Dayan makes John his own best editor, allowing just enough of Man’s scenes to show their strengths and cutting them just as the weaknesses inherent in John’s premise kick in. (When Man alludes to Eden, John laments, “Everybody does the Garden! Albee, Joni Mitchell, Iron Butterfly.”) And Dayan’s shrewd pacing allows the moment when Man breaks through and begins fighting with his creator to be—well, not plausible, exactly, but close. The series of battles that ensue is heady fodder for the sort of viewer who wants to debate God vs. man, man vs. woman, art vs. life over a post-show espresso. Director Shirley Serotsky, impressively, has matched the two realistic roles (John and his wife) and one surrealistic one (Man) with actors whose styles suit the constructs. Adrienne Nelson’s Helen anchors the situation in something like the real world—though, strangely, she’s the stagiest of the trio. Jason Lott, who plays Man, is a physically eloquent actor; although Forum Theater & Dance doesn’t call upon anyone to dance here, his agility suggests he’d be well up to the task. His Man is blandly menacing and strangely engaging, even though, as he admits, “I’m an archetype.” And Scott Graham’s John progresses from a mere Matthew Broderick– like harried Everyguy to the protagonist of a spectacular scene near the end in which, “becoming” Man, he recounts that lost soul’s visit to a deserted theater: “Is anybody here? Hello? Can you hear me? Empty seats? Come, help me. Bring back, revive the souls, the spirits of those who were inside you, who sat inside you, who rubbed their life force into you.” As Graham delivered this speech, with Lott and Nelson sitting in the aisles next to us few outsiders, I felt a chill that wasn’t from the air conditioning. —Pamela Murray Winters