"When it comes to love," says Rose, "I'm not an anarchist." That makes her an outsider in "The New Sincerity," although she's the protagonist in this smart and funny play by Alena Smith making its world premiere at Bay Street Theater.
Rose is a 29-year-old writer who's just been promoted to "feature contributor" for a pretentious literary journal, Asymptote, a geometric term for a curve and line infinitely failing to intersect. So, yes, the journal, led by Benjamin, a pseudointellectual opportunist, is ironic as well. We meet the two after an office party. "I'm drunk," he says after inviting Rose to join him on the sofa, "and my fiancee's in Berlin." They veer toward connection, but Benjamin/Rose aren't an item because, he says, "You're completely sincere."
Smith, whose credits include Showtime's "The Affair" and HBO's "Newsroom," avoids the phrase Occupy Wall Street in "The New Sincerity," though that's the insurrection happening across the street in Zuccotti Park, in the downtown capital of 1 Percent Nation. (The movement survives today in mininum-wage revolutions in Los Angeles and other major jurisdictions.)
Benjamin dismisses the protest, depicted in a visual cacophony by set designers Beowulf Boritt and Alexis Distler. But to Rose, it could be the defining story of her generation -- the rise of the New, New Left -- following failures of her grandparents' time (socialists silenced by blacklist turncoats) and her parents' (hippies exhausted by tear gas and recreational pharmaceuticals).
As directed by Bob Balaban, "Sincerity" riffs brightly on the passion of young people who think they can change the world. Teddy Bergman as Benjamin is a cynic until an unauthorized social-media post commits his journal to The Cause. He becomes a convert just to promote himself. Bergman gives us a feverishly lukewarm-blooded glimpse of the snake behind this shedding of ideological skin. Elvy Yost as a much-abused intern captures with glib abandon the hipster spirit of the tweet generation, while Justine Lupe as Rose is the voice of still-evolving reason, empathetically unsure yet resolute. But will her resolve survive Django? He's a protester played by Peter Mark Kendall, who could be a time-traveling interloper from the '60s, endorsing free love with an anachronistic "Right on!"
"The New Sincerity" is not an etiquette lesson, but we learn something valuable in reflecting on our manners, or lack thereof, in dealing with life and one another.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and next Wednesday; 7 p.m. Tuesday, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor, through June 14
TICKETS $60.75-$75; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org