PLAYGROUND 16 at the Thick House a winner

(Top Right) Maryssa Wanlass, Lauren English and Lisa Morse in Robin Lynn Rodriguez' HELLA LOVE OAKLAND. (Top Left) back, l-r) Lisa Morse, Cathleen Riddley, (front, l-r) Roselyn Hallett, Michael Asberry, Lauren English and Maryssa Wanlass in Kirk Shimano's MISS FINKNAGLE SUCCUMBS TO CHAOS (Lower Left) (l-r) Michael Asberry, Roselyn Hallett and Cathleen Riddley in Garret Jon Groenveld's CHILDLESS, part of the 16th annual BEST OF PLAYGROUND FESTIVAL.

BEST OF PLAYGROUND: 16th Annual Festival of Short Plays. Thick House Theatre, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco. 415-992-6677 or online at

It’s time to trundle off to the Thick House to see the winners of this year’s 16th season for the Best of PlayGround that is the incubating milieu for up-coming playwrights in the Bay Area. Seven Short (10 minutes) eclectic plays are given great performances by professional actors and directors.

This year’s winners include five plays and two musicals. The subject matter spans different eras from ancient Greece to the present day political agenda. One of the best is by Garret Jon Groenveld who is a frequent contributor to PlayGround and has had a number of plays produced in the Bay Area. He is hardly “incubating” in regard to talent and his taut take on the Medea legend entitled Childless will send a chill up your spine even though you may be familiar with the ending. Music by Christopher Winslow amplifies the unfolding horror and the cast of Michael Asberry as King Jason, Cathleen Riddley as Medea and Roselyn Hallet as Jason’s latest sex toy Creusa Glauce give top notch performances under tight direction by Raelle Myrick-Hodges.

The other play with music is a hysterical romp Meet the Breeders by Ignacio Zulueta that borders between farce and satirical social comedy. Consider being a childless couple, by design and choice, when your fecund relatives arrive with their new born babe and insist it is your turn to help populate the world. The wild ride does end with an unexpected twist not to be revealed here. Tracy Ward’s direction has just the right amount of farce to balance the social implication of not having children.

Poor Oakland, California will never shed Gertrude Stein’s five word description “There is no there there!” Robin Lynn Rodriguez’s bittersweet offering titled Hella Love Oakland and labeled “A comic Play/Spoken Word Piece” explores the justification of remaining in Oakland through the words of three young backpack Moms. Director Jon Tracy wisely avoids his usual physicality and allows Maryssa Wanlass, Lauren English and Lisa Morse to display their talents when it is her turn to break the fourth wall with verbal justification for remaining even if there is no there there.

Social injustice creeps into two dramatic pieces that take place 60 years apart. The first, Ships in the Day by Genevieve Jessee, admirably directed by the multi-talented Joy Carlin takes place in a shipyard during World War II when women ably replaced men who went off to fight ‘the righteous’ war. Intolerance rears its ugly head, not just against blacks, but also from ethnocentric prejudice. Lauren English, Cathleen Ridley and Maryssa Wanlass give a stunning demonstration of ensemble acting.

The second drama with an unlikely title of You Eat What You Kill by Cleavon Smith is a perfect fit with the upcoming elections and incessant political ads. Author Smith dissects the conflicting mores of working class black parents with a son with an MBA that has a lucrative position as a highly influential campaign fundraiser. An excerpt from Martin Luther’s “I Have a Dream” speech starts the play setting the mood with “ America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” The author incisively builds the dialog/interaction to a confrontational pitch that is accentuated by M. Graham Smith's precise direction.

The other two plays that round out the evening are both clever, thoughtful, humorous and one has a touch of intellectualism. Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos by Kirk Shimano seems to be the audience favorite. It certainly was mine. With characters named Miss Finknagle (Lisa Morse), Rumor (Roselyn Hallett), Gossip (Lauren English) and Star Flower (Maryssa Wanless) it just has to be fun. Fun, yes, but with a minor discussion of the Chaos Theory (go to google to check it out). Just imagine what your life (and Miss Finknagle's) would be like if your actions were predicated on the flip of a coin and that coin always came up "heads". Enough said.

Room for Rent by Mercedes Segesvary and directed with panache by Jessica Heidt is a paean to the single woman in San Francisco looking for a room to rent. The roommates she encounters may not be typical of those living in The City but they surely could be even though the acting is extremely broad brazenly begging for laughs.

This very professional evening with intermission at under two hours will give you something to discuss over lattes at Starbucks and when the authors become famous (and they will??) you will can brightly say “Oh, I saw his/her work when she was incubating at PlayGround 16!”

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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