Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Several Gems in The Best Of PlayGround's
Also see Richard's review of Wicked
San Francisco has always been considered an incubator for the next generation of playwrights, and many successful plays have come from the Bay Area's young playwrights. Several theater companies each year present a festival of these short pieces, many of which will become full scripted plays. The Best of PlayGround is now in its seventh year of an emerging playwrights festival. Their approach is very different from the other festivals that play in the Bay Area; they use what is called a speedy approach to playwriting and producing. They give up and coming playwrights a chance to write short plays, and they must be written quickly. PlayGround announces the topic of the month, the scripts are due five days later, and five days after that the play is performed.
This season, there were 230 submissions to the Lab series. Only 36 were accepted for development as part of the series. From those, seven short works were chosen for full production in the festival. The seven playwrights receive the 2003 Emerging Playwright Award and an honorarium as well as publication of the scripts.
This year's plays range from the mundane to interesting comedies and dramas. The presentations are graced by some of our best Bay Area actors, including Liam Vincent, Rod Gnapp, Julia Mueller, Leon Goertzen, Lisa Kang, Ian Scott McGregor and Danielle Thys. Each play lasts 10 minutes, and they all share a common theme: the human hunger for contact with one another. Dramaturg Luan Schooler says the characters "occupied the full spectrum of contentment with themselves and the world and their needs range from the simple call me back on the telephone to a complex of who I need to be."
Some of the plays I saw looked like they were written in a hurry with very little structure to make them interesting. The opening play is a good example. Martha Soukup's Cold Calls is a short comedy about a telemarketer with whom most people would definitely want to speak. She dispenses "strange advice" to those on the other end of the phone line as to what will happen to them in the next few minutes or so. She even calls people to tell them the answers to the crossword puzzles they are working on, and that an arthritic dog is trying to get out of someone's yard. The whole thing ends with an actor sitting in the audience yelling as the telemarketer tries to reach him at home. It is a rather silly play with actress Julia Mueller trying to make sense of the premise.
Michael Lutz's The Vigil is a gem of a play, one that could be extended to an interesting comedy drama. Liam Vincent as Alon is the hero narrator provides a voice that helps to evoke the style of a '50s film noir movie. His character tells an introspective tale about a man in a bar who is heading for his mother's funeral in Arizona. His main worry is who is going to take care of his goldfish while he is away. There are subplots in this 10 minutes that could be expanded, such as one about Rod Gnapp who has the eye for the ladies, and a strange mysterious woman named Sheri (played by Danielle Thys) who comes to the bar reading Dostoevsky.
Aaron Loeb's Sound reminds me of Shakespeare's line, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing." A professor of Japanese legends (Leon Goertzen) and his pregnant Korean wife (Lisa Kang) are in a doctor's room waiting to hear their baby's heartbeat. The piece starts out very romantic, then goes into an argument on the Big Bang theory, some yelling and out of control screaming, and a finally setting down to hear the child's heartbeat. Both actors do what they can with the script.
Kenn Rabin's Hunters and Gatherers is one of the better presentations. This is a lovely romantic scene reminiscent of the Fox film An Affair to Remember, again starring Liam Vincent and Julie Mueller. They meet on a tour boat going to Alcatraz and a budding romance begins. Both are charming in their roles; this play could be expanded to a romantic drama.
Another outstanding 10 minute play starring Liam Vincent (pictured at right) is Cass Brayton's I'd Like to Buy a Vowel, in which the multi-talented Vincent plays a drag queen. This is the story of an odd lovers' triangle involving the queen, a college student and a musician who likes his drugs. Vincent first appears in a Japanese silk robe and then takes off the robe to reveal a flaming red bra and red bikini panties. During the short play he applies a great black wig and red dress, creating a perfect drag queen. His main problem is that he gets emails from his two "lovers," but he would love to get a real letter (which he calls "emails with molecules").
Maria Rokas's Plans and Peccadilloes is a convoluted tale about a 15 year marriage that goes wrong. However, Danielle Thys and Rod Gnapp are very good in the roles.
The last presentation, Kristina Goodnight Letterophilia, is very interesting. This is a very good short play that probably could not be expanded much, maybe to a fun one act comedy play. It has a good beginning, middle and end. The postmaster played by Ian Scott McGregor explains that 1 million people in this country have the symptom called "letterophilia" which mean persons who love to get any kind of mail. They live for getting mail in the no matter what it is. Poor Harold, played by Rod Gnapp, sends out all kinds of mail but never gets answers. He even writes to the girl he escorted to the high school prom 15 years ago but never receives a reply. Julia Mueller is a neurotic letter receiver. If she receives no mail she goes bonkers. In the end she gets her just desserts. This 10 minute play is hilarious with good, clever lines. All of the actors, including Lisa Kang, are fun to watch.
Best of PlayGround will play at the Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco thru June 29th. For tickets call 415-987-2787 or visit www.PlayGround-sf.org.
Photo: Tom Hauck