Burning Chrome, Next Theatre Company. Science fiction author and Wired magazine poster boy William Gibson (perhaps best known for Johnny Mnemonic and Neuromancer) wins points for prescience. But once you get past his jargon, what remains is a surprisingly pedestrian pulp fiction sensibility. Unlike Anthony Burgess’s neologisms, which have a thematic purpose, Gibson’s talk often merely distracts from his derivative, somewhat soulless plots.

Adapters Steve Pickering and Charley Sherman have a soft spot for this sort of gizmo-laden hard-boiled fiction. But though they’ve injected a good dose of much-needed wit into their version of Burning Chrome, Gibson’s 1981 tale of two cyberthieves, they’re unable to convert it into anything more than an occasionally diverting, highly atmospheric drama whose props and set attract far more attention than the shopworn plot. Next Theatre has compared Gibson to Jim Thompson and Dashiell Hammett; Pickering and Sherman even quote Hammett. But that’s wishful thinking.

With the exception of Automatic Jack (hypnotically played by Ted Koch), all of Gibson’s characters are at best two-dimensional. Though Pickering and Sherman have boosted the sexual interplay between Rikki Wildside and Jack, most of it sounds like rote B-movie dialogue. And the climactic scenes in which Jack and his partner dive headlong into cyberspace to rip off a crime boss translate poorly to the stage; there’s only so much dramatic interest in watching actors manipulate machinery.

–Adam Langer