Frank Wortham’s manic solo show House of Lucky premiered at Impact in 1998, moving on to the Marsh, the Magic (where it was extended twice, eventually running for three months), and points east. Eight years later, House is back in the house, and Wortham is just as manic and hilarious, even if the subject matter now has a nostalgic quality. Two days and nights in the life of poet Harper Jones cascade past as Wortham introduces seventeen different characters in ninety minutes, trotting them through the Haight, Cafe du Nord, and the Green Tortoise-like bus-tour company where Jones (barely) ekes out a living.
There are stingingly true moments, such as the dissection of the search for love in San Francisco, and drug-fueled aphorisms such as “If they think you’re strange, your ass will get fired.” It’s obvious that some of this is true and some completely fabricated, but there’s no time in Wortham’s spiraling, balls-out delivery to pick apart which is which. Did Wortham — who now contributes to our sister paper, the SF Weekly — actually bonk fellow writer and musician Beth Lisick and then get dosed by her jealous husband afterwards? Who cares? In this story, Jones going home with “Beth Lipstick” and then paying the price the next day is hysterical.
House of Lucky opens on Jones’ roommate Mark, addled on whiskey and crank and “burning with amphetamine brilliance,” as he describes a show he’d like to produce. A live sex show. But not with strippers, no, but two gorgeous “theater artists” who give their audience “deep spiritual hard-ons that last ten-twenty years” and inspire a wave of copycat behavior, from “old ladies in Pacific Heights tying up their gardeners and slapping them on the ass” to people in Portland and Seattle “laying down their lattes and marching into the woods” to assume the 69 position. And it never really lets up. Even in the quiet moments, Wortham and his characters are vibrating on the edge of something — panic? Disaster? Breakthrough? Self-knowledge? — and it’s that ride that makes this more than just a document of what San Francisco was like at the end of the dot-com era, or what it’s like to be young, broke, and free.