The “deer” in Emily Zemba’s title is dead from the start. Except when it’s “dear,” and then still it looks like it might be dead. Zemba’s mildly metaphysical new play, receiving a mildly charming world premiere from First Floor Theater, is big on linguistic quirks including rhymes and homophones; it’s a small wonder Zemba didn’t write it in verse.
Her plot might support it, actually: A young couple, Peter (Alex Stage) and Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi), arrive at a cabin in the woods to find the deceased deer hanging halfway out of a broken window—facing outward. They deduce it must have smashed its way in, not liked what it found, and tried to exit through its entrance only to get caught up on the broken glass.
Before the two can figure out what to do about the deer, they’re interrupted by Peter’s dear sister Marnie (Kay Kron) and her paramour Felix (Tony Santiago), who arrive unannounced and uninvited. It soon becomes clear these two couples’ interrelationships are more complicated than they initially appear; think a contemporary take on the foolish mortals in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and you’re on the right track.
Zemba’s overarching point remains elusive (the deer represents fear of commitment, maybe?), and her scenario a little cloying. But First Floor’s production engages on the strengths of strong storefront-level design (Eleanor Kahn’s set is particularly clever) and an appealing cast. Even if you don’t fall in love with Deer, you could find yourself deeply in like.
First Floor Theater at the Den Theatre. By Emily Zemba. Directed by Jesse Roth. With Shadee Vossoughi, Alex Stage, Kay Kron, Tony Santiago, Matt Nikkila. Running time: 1hr 40mins; one intermission.