Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Pear Slices 2024
The Pear Theatre
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Vivienne Truong and Jenna Ruby Marvet
Photo by Sinjin Jones
Pigs seeking shelter, zombies released by the millions, precious memories found in a flower garden, Juliet's visitor in Romeo's tomb, Tarot cards coming to life. These are just some of the glimpses from this year's crop of Pear Slices 2024, the near-twentieth annual array of eight original, one-act plays produced by Pear Theatre–each premiere piece ten to fifteen minutes in length and all acted in repertory by a cast of six playing a total of twenty-seven roles. In a matter of one hundred minutes (plus intermission), stories are told, characters developed, emotions aroused; memories made. And, as in past years, more often than not, the 2024 short plays succeed in engaging, entertaining, and even enlightening the audience.

The plays are all written by members of the Pear Playwright Guild, a group of Bay Area playwrights who meet every two weeks to help workshop each other's plays. The variety of tone/setting, reality/fantasy, serious/funny is a wide range among the eight plays, this year with four each directed by Arcadia Conrad and by Troy Johnson. Six screens variously shaped like art pieces hang on a wall to provide vivid projection backgrounds for each play and are designed along with scene- and mood-setting musical selections by sound and projection designer, David L. Hobbs. Simple, easily assembled, effective set designs by Louis Stone-Collonge quickly move into place while Pati Bristow's animal, human, and otherworldly costumes magically transform the cast members from one play to the next in mere minutes.

A partying sister mistakenly drinks her brother's green-glowing concoction, sending her and the whole world into chaos in the initial offering of the night, Accidental Immortal, by Sophie Naylor. Both this opening piece and the evening's final, The Tarot Reading (also by Naylor), in which a fortune teller's cards come into full life, are frankly this year's weakest slices of the Pear offerings. Neither really works well in terms of script nor acting; and each is rather awkwardly presented with not much power to draw an audience's attention or interest. However, the good news is that the other six plays inside these bookends are a delightful collage of appealing premieres.

Bezachin Jifar and Vivienne Truong leave strong impressions as they portray two ex-spouses–Donny and Ruby–returning from the funeral of Donny's more recent wife, Sharon. Christine C. Hsu's Cleaning Up is a heartfelt, few minutes of their remembering the brave battle Sharon fought and lost against cancer–one that Ruby also underwent more successfully alongside Sharon as the two wives of Donny became unlikely best friends. Troy Johnson's direction is particularly powerful as each actor employs silences, far-off looks, and quick but tentative physical contact to convey unsaid messages and to suggest new possibilities.

Memories also play a large role in Bridgette Dutta Portman's Fertile Soil as a mother Susan (Vivienne Truong) and her daughter Leah (Jenna Ruby Marvet) prepare the soil to plant flowers and herbs in Leah's yard. Leah is largely unengaged, becoming only slightly more animated when she suddenly finds a millipede "with a million legs" or a yucky earthworm with "no legs at all." But as her mother tries to console her for reasons soon to become clearer, Leah also finds curious things in the soil, like a basil plant's label, a pencil, and a peace-symbol earring. Unseen by them is the twenty-something (much the same age as Leah) Iris (Lizzie Izyumin), who appears in and out of our sight wearing outfits of a period when hippies and love power were all the rage. For each item Leah finds, we witness how it was once lost. A further item ties the two young women together and creates the foundation for a story that is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Characters from "The Three Little Pigs," "Little Red Riding Hood," and an IPhone's Siri combine in one of the evening's true highlights, Paul Braverman's Brick House. The lazy Pig 2 (Lizzie Izyumin) and her equally easygoing brother Pig 3 (Arohan Deshpande) are having fun mocking their bricklaying brother Pig 1 (Bezachin Jifar), whom they believe is way too cautious and much too worried about the Big Bad Wolf. After all, their new best friend Fox (Vanessa Alvarez) has assured them that the Wolf is long gone from these parts, making it OK that Pig 2 is rebuilding her house once again with straw (but this time using spit to hold it together better) and that Pig 3 will rebuild his stick house, this time with twine. The three Pigs bring hilarious antics, voices, and oinking grunts to their parts (and wait until you see their dinner manners). There are laugh-out-loud twists and turns to come in this turned-upside-down children's tale, with Siri (Jenna Ruby Marvet) ready to step in and take the starring role.

The next particularly strong entry in the evening's lineup comes from Greg Lam with, and it's another update of an old tale, this time a remaking of the final, tragic scene of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Juliet's Post Credits Scene opens with the distraught Juliet (Jenna Ruby Marvet) about to take the plunge of a knife into her gut when she is interrupted by none other than Horatio (Bezachin Jifar), one of the few surviving, final-scene characters from the Bard's Hamlet. Horatio arrives with a bound copy of the complete works of Shakespeare with the mission to work his way through the tragedies in search of a heroine to save from the playwright's deadly script where "we are all puppets of a hidden master." His plan: Find the girl and head toward the happier plays set in places like nice forests. Lam's script is a hoot for any Shakespeare lover as we accompany these two, who try to outwit the words embedded in the pages of his famous plays.

A backyard meeting of two school moms–both volunteers for this year's fundraising book fair–becomes a setting for an uneasy debate about what constitutes child abuse versus parental discipline. Lizzie Izyumin and Vanessa Alvarez bring different perspectives into Backyard by Cherielyn Ferguson as the two await the arrival of the school's star volunteer and now candidate for the school board, Robin (Vivienne Truong). While we never see Robin, we certainly hear a lot from her from the backyard next door. The playlet raises important and troubling questions but leaves any resolution up to us as the audience.

The evening's one solo-performer play, I'm Not Her by Teresa Veramendi, is perhaps the strangest of all the offerings and also the one most impressively enacted. A young woman dressed in an extremely tight, hip-hugging, black dress with black fishnet hose takes a drag on her cigarette and explains, "I'm not her ... You may think I am, but I'm not." Another puff, and she adds, "Ruth and I look exactly alike ... we do answer to the same name ... But I'm not her ... Ruth can be here, but me... I'm just a figment of her imagination." For the next fifteen or so minutes, Jenna Ruby Marvet commands our undivided attention as Passion Monster spills forth her life history–with ample cursing and suggestive moves and looks punctuating her sarcastic, snarly words. Passion Monster introduces us–but usually not in a friendly manner–to six others somewhat like her by names like The Kid, The Angel, and Depression. Her and their connections to a troubled Ruth slowly become clearer as Passion Monster continues to spit her venom and tell her version of Ruth's and her shared tale. The result is unnerving and unsettling while also an amazing feat by a talented, young actor.

With a basket of new, ripe selections to relish, audience members have ample chance to pick and choose their favorites. This annual Pear Theatre tradition is a spring gift to Bay Area theater lovers and a great opportunity for members of the Pear Playwright Guild to show off the fruits of their diligent efforts.

Pear Slices 2024 runs through June 2, 2024, at The Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida, Suite A, Mountain View CA. For tickets and information, please visit