The blind-date comedy “Other Life Forms” is an amiable getaway — cheerful, bouncy, and with a bright sci-fi twist that once upon a time might have earned writer Brandon McCoy a scriptwriting invitation from “Mork and Mindy” or “Third Rock From the Sun.”
McCoy isn’t blazing any new trails, but he’s earning his laughs in the brisk Keegan Theatre premiere directed by Shirley Serotsky. The setup — how many times have writers started with a blind-date setup? — has a wound-up guy named Ben stammering through small talk with Molly, whose vegetarianism (of all things) he finds hard to swallow. There’s a Seinfeld-level of oddball angst to Ben and steely defiance in Molly that you hear in the banter (Jerry and Elaine would nail this dialogue, getting on each other’s nerves), even if you don’t altogether feel it in the acting of Josh Sticklin and Shanta Parasuraman.
John Loughney and Brianna Letourneau are more settled as Jeff and Leslie, who hit it off so well on their blind date that they decide to head back to Jeff’s place. What happens there shows that McCoy has a knack for farcical plotting as the couples smash up and reconfigure.
Nifty visual touches include the sly UFO decor, innocent-looking posters and art such as the Grant Wood “American Gothic” parody with a Martian-faced farm couple in the frame. The wrinkle in the plot is that one of the play’s five characters — including a waiter (Aidan Quartana, amusingly diplomatic) who keeps popping into the action — is indeed an alien. Not saying who, but the performer in this role makes a lovely understated transition when the truth comes out.
The point? This is a romantic comedy all the way, and sentimental almost to a fault — the kind of show that moons over the stars that inevitably fill the backdrop as the story erases your mind and aims straight at your heart. The characters are appealingly smart, but the biggest rub is Ben, whose melancholy hovers in the script like a stagnant funk. Whatever fundamental charm Ben has isn’t shining through yet in Sticklin’s prickly turn.
McCoy brings the first act to a snappy finish, though, and gets on a nice roll through much of Act 2 (with Letourneau doing especially flexible work — sarcastic, dry, earnest — as Leslie). He’s changing lanes from his usual role as an actor; of note lately, McCoy was the Muslim convert in Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who and the What” at Round House Theatre and a hangdog, lovelorn Irishman in “Outside Mullingar” at Keegan. Another longtime D.C. actor, Jennifer Mendenhall, is also making a playwriting debut this month with “#poolparty” at Ally Theatre Company, and McCoy’s premiere comes after he directed last month’s “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” at Keegan. It adds to the pleasure of a play like this to see a familiar artist successfully taking on a slightly alien form.
Other Life Forms, by Brandon McCoy. Directed by Shirley Serotsky. Set, Matthew J. Keenan; lights, Paul Callahan; costumes, Amy MacDonald. About two hours. Through July 7 at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. $45. 202-265-3767 or keegantheatre.com.