Center REPertory Company, the resident professional theater company at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, tends toward light entertainment in its main stage season. It just finished a run of a madcap theatrical adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and will be finishing up the season with the musical Sweet Charity in May. But Center REP also offers up an alternative menu of quirkier fare in its Off Center season in the intimate Knight Stage 3, the smallest of the Lesher's three theaters.
The latest of these is the Bay Area premiere of Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, a romantic comedy by Egyptian American playwright Yussef El Guindi, a former Bay Area resident who's had several of his plays produced in San Francisco by Golden Thread Productions (Language Rooms, Back of the Throat, Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes). Pilgrims premiered at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle in 2011 and went on to win the 2012 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award.
Compared to his aforementioned darker comedies informed by the paranoia and civil rights abuses of the "War on Terror," Pilgrims Musa and Sheri is a relatively straightforward modern romantic comedy. Musa (a starry-eyed and eager-to-please Gabriel Marin) is a cab driver, a recent Egyptian-American immigrant who says he learned English from hardboiled detective novels but doesn't really talk like it. Sheri (Rebecca Schweitzer, electric with nervous energy) is a neurotic, Caucasian New York diner waitress with a nonstop stream of chatter about how she doesn't want Musa to think she's easy even though they're probably totally going to have sex.
When we first see them, he's invited her up his apartment for a drink at 2:00am, while giving her a ride home from her shift. Never mind that Muslims aren't supposed to drink; the last thing he wants to talk about is God, even though Sheri finds the subject fascinating. It seems like the perfect setup for a one-night stand, which is why she wants to make it clear she's not that kind of girl, though she goes back and forth on that score.