Best Of PlayGround 15 worth a visit

THE BEST OF PLAYGROUND 15: A FESTIVAL OF NEW WRITERS & NEW PLAYS! THICK HOUSE 1695 18th Street, SF. or (415) 992-6677 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (415) 992-6677 end_of_the_skype_highlighting May 5 – May 29, 2011

Each season, PlayGround develops thirty-six original short plays by approximately two dozen emerging professional playwrights through monthly Monday Night PlayGround series. Of these, seven plays and playwrights are selected each year to receive PlayGround's Emerging Playwright Award and full production of the short plays as part of The Best of PlayGround festival, running for four weeks in May. This year’s winners were received by an appreciative full house (94 seats) on Friday night and are an eclectic selection all worth a visit, some more so than others.

By far the best of the shows, and best costumed (William Curry and Chelsea White) is Rapunzel’s Etymology of Zero subtitled A Feminist Fairy Tale. Author Katie May has turned the fairy tale upside down into a hilarious, visually stunning opener for the evening. This Rapunzel is a brilliant mathematician and The Prince, her would be “rescuer”a dolt. Jim Kleinmann mines the script for all its worth and it is worth a lot. David Cramer as The Narrator, Rinabeth Apostol as Rapunzel and Jomar Tagatac mesh like a fine tuned engine getting huge laughs for what are posited as intellectual lines.

Director Jon Tracy has a reputation for bringing physicality to the theatre. It is amazing how he introduced this conceit into Frigidare, Arisa White’s clever, thoughtful and cutting satirical twist on coming out as gay ( or is it non-gay?). The mother says, “Closets, not refrigerators, William. You come out of closets!” In this play, the mother asks the question of her son ensconced in the Frigidare: “Is it not wrong, for me to want you to be gay.” Suggestion to Arisa: Drop the double negative and make that a positive rhetorical question.

The stagehands receive a round of applause taking a page from Jon Tracy’s love of physicality when they set the stage for the grungy intellectual and quite stimulating SEE. ON. UNSEEN. THE.LOST by Evelyn Jean Pine. The two male characters are voluntary outcasts living in the outside world under bridges, in the rain etc without anchor to time and place. Consider the consequences when the older and wiser one wants to sleep indoors in a real bed? Conflict arises as the younger one has devised a sure method to make money by the simple expediency of telling fortunes as people select random words from a paper bag and the pair telling their fortune from their selections. Projections of the words are effectively used to convey how simple words can tell a story and predict the future. The play is full of action keeping the audience interested from beginning to end.

Ecce Homo (look up the title on Google and be surprised) is a charming, bittersweet vignette of a married couple preparing to give their final performance in the dying age of vaudeville that is put to pasture by the advent of talking pictures. Brian Herndon and Holli Hornlien interact beautifully in Jonathan Luskin's perfect 10 minute play under Molly Noble’s sensitive direction.

It must be extremely difficult to write a short non-linear play that has a dramatic/emotional bent. Author Mandy Hodge Rizvi has created such a play that grasps the audience attention with a subject that is becoming a common devastating problem for individuals and families. The problem is Alzheimer’s disease. Escapades is written as a ballet with words using multimedia projections. It is a perfect challenge for avant-garde director M. Graham Smith who teaches physical theatre and movement at ACT. He keeps the action moving between, reality, dream sequences and fantasy ending with a solo stunning tableau bringing to mind Jesus on the cross.

Religion enters into This is My Body by Daniel Heath and is the least satisfying offering of the evening. Consider two youngsters sneaking into a Catholic church where their love blossoms standing before an Alter taking vows of the Sacrament, hence, the title Actors Rinabeth Apostol and Michael Phillis give it a yeoman try but are not helped by Susi Daminlano’s static direction.

The final curtain of the evening is a real charming musical titled Calling the Kettle by Brady Lea, music by Christopher Winslow, directed by Jessica Heidt. The reference, of course, is to the pot calling the kettle black. Holli Hornlien, Michael Phillis, Brian Herdon and Rinabeth Apostol all have passable voices, great comedic timing to send the audience home with a smile.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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