On the PlayGround, then and now

I’m reposting a blog entry I wrote about PlayGround last year (January 2010) in anticipation of returning there for another installment tonight.

Another Evening on the PlayGround
I went over to Berkeley tonight for the monthly installment of PlayGround, “San Francisco’s source for New Play Development”. I had bought a subscription at the first show of the season in mid-October. However, due to unforeseen reasons, I had to miss the November and December shows and this evening was my return to the format. However, it’s still a good deal, with the five shows I will see coming out to a total of $50. And I feel good about choosing to support a small, ambitious local arts organization (aside from my home company) on moderate financial terms.

Tonight’s theme for the five-six 10-15 minute plays was “Fish Out of Water”, short musical theatre pieces performed with the accompaniment of Joshua Raoul Brody, a noted local improvisational musician. The climax came in the final piece, “The Origin of the Species/Showtune”, a “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” style musical parody of musicals.

All of tonight’s pieces were magnetizing and appealing in one form or another. However, I felt the most successful ones came at the middle of the show, as they focused on 2-3 characters and generally followed more intimate storylines. The two that stood out most for me were “Back” and “A Lovely Day”.

“Back” told a story of family strife in the 1960’s in a humorous manner. A father, mother and daughter broke the fourth wall to express their disdain for their lives. Suddenly, they switched into song and told their stories through a rhyming round, eventually coming back together as one large happy family.

“A Lovely Day” straddled lines of comedy and drama as it sketched a tale of an apparent amnesiac and her husband. What could have been an overly serious (or overly silly) subject was treated with restraint through the dialogue. The husband expressed sympathy for his wife and her plight (which she had no idea of), but then pivoted and said he enjoyed watching “Memento” and laughing at some scenes, as she apparently did too. The theme worked and led to an honest-feeling conclusion.

PlayGround assembles a pool of writers to write these scripts in a period of five days or less. This time, the music was also composed (complete with lyrics) in that same time frame. It has a zestful yet presentational energy of guerrilla theatre at its best, which is exactly why I enjoy being a part of the audience at each performance.


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