Tomorrow Show 

The UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre reminds us the future ain't what it used to be.

It's set in the future, or an alternate present, but it looks more like Father Knows Best than The Jetsons. Its happy, kooky, valiantly non-conformist family comes straight out of 1936's You Can't Take It with You, but now the penalty for defying social norms in the dystopian genetic age is unimaginably high. Its title initially seems dadaist, but ultimately makes perfect sense.

It's Y York's play Rain. Some Fish. No Elephants., on stage courtesy of the University of Arizona's Arizona Repertory Theatre. What could be an off-putting jumble of self-conscious theatrical gestures, turns out to be both intriguing and highly entertaining.

We find ourselves in a living room that's futuristic by the standards of the Eisenhower administration, with angular fixtures and cool contours. Esther, the homemaker, dons a frilly apron and exuberantly devotes herself to scrubbing out stains in the carpet. Gene, the family breadwinner, seems to have some vaguely defined job, but spends all his time either fishing or cavorting with his family. That family includes two daughters, a working girl (June) and a precocious 12-year-old (Emily).

But this model 1950s family has apparently moved into some suburb of the Twilight Zone. Esther isn't just a vigilant housekeeper; she's obsessive, verging on insane. Gene's erstwhile career turns out to be in genetic engineering; the entire society has been genetically tailored to be perfect and placid and colorless, each individual programmed to self-destruct in middle age (hence Esther's mental decline). And when Gene goes fishing, he dons a slicker to protect himself from the acid rain that's been falling incessantly for years, and manages to catch fish presumed to be extinct.

June not only has a job, but she works in the genetics lab and is tugged more than the other family members toward the side of conformity. Gene, you see, has rebelled, and refuses to go back to work, triggering a social crisis because he's the only person who really knows how to manipulate the building blocks of human personality and physiology. He and Esther secretly produced little Emily the old-fashioned way, which is strictly against the law. The experiment wasn't a complete success; Emily is mildly malformed, but in many ways she's the smartest member of the household.

For all these infractions, the family--especially Emily--could be denounced and eliminated. That's just what Emily's friend Julia has in mind, as she plants a spy-servant in the household. Like all servants, he's a black man (with the generic name "Blackie") made dependent on chemicals that drastically reduce his intellectual capacity.

So you can figure out the "rain" and "some fish" parts of the title. As for "no elephants," those beasts are extinct, although they do live on in a game the family plays several times a week to mark the end of another species. The game recounts how the elephants tamed themselves into oblivion, and, in its absurd yet biting denunciation of peer pressure, is the most chilling moment of the play.

This satire lacks many obvious laughs, and the tone is uneven; how much of this is the fault of playwright York and how much falls to director Brent Gibbs is hard to say, yet the play does ultimately succeed. Much of the credit goes to the cast, particularly Kellie Christenson as the childlike, mercurial yet wise Emily and Monica Bausman as the daft Esther, especially touching in her few moments of lucidity.

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