Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at Playwrights' Center

Since I "discovered" it a few years ago, the Playwrights' Center has become one of my favorite places to experience theater, specifically - new works of theater still in the development process. PWC supports something like 2000 playwrights a year in various different ways. Their "Ruth Easton New Play Series" runs the first (or sometimes second) Monday and Tuesday of the month, December through April. This series "gives selected Core Writers 20 hours with collaborators to workshop their script—to write, rewrite, experiment, and shape their work. For playwrights, this means great leaps forward for their plays. For audiences, this means a thrilling and intimate night of theater." I attend every one I can, because the plays are always interesting and the casts are always dreamy. It's really fun to be part of the first audience to experience a new play, and I highly encourage you to check it out if you haven't yet. Warning: attending readings at PWC can get addictive, but the good news is it's free! Below is some info about the current and final reading of the series, which continues TONIGHT (reservations recommended, but if you show up they'll usually be able to get you in) and past readings in the series.

Darling Boud (as in Loud), December 3-4 2018
by Playwrights’ Center Core Writer Allison Gregory
Teeming with glamour and tragedy, Darling Boud brings the six infamous, blue-blooded Mitford sisters to searing, witty life. Controversial, politically charged, radically different, their fascinating world intersected the big events of the twentieth century. But what happens when they are brought together—something they never would have agreed to in life? A collusion of family, love, and world war in correspondence.
Director: Risa Brainin
Dramaturg: Liz Engelman
Cast: Jane Froiland, Carolyn Pool, Sara Richardson, Sue Scott, Sandra Struthers, Amy Warner

A black page or canvas. So many possibilities.
(Photo credit: @cherryandspoon Instagram)
Jeune Terre, January 14-15 2019
by Playwrights’ Center Core Writer Gab Reisman
The waters are rising around Jeune Terre, Louisiana, and the land is slipping away. As scientists and state administrators bargain over the town’s future, a theatre troupe arrives to tell an old story in a new way, just in time for a quickly approaching storm. This inventive new play with songs explores what it means to live on the edge of invisibility in a time of atmospheric change.

Director: Jeremy B. Cohen
Dramaturg: Elissa Adams
Composer: Avi Amon
Dialect Coach: Foster Johns
Apprentice Stage Manager: Bronwen Chan
Cast: Christian Bardin, Gary Briggle, Alex Galick, Becca Hart, Dan Hopman, Joe Isenberg, Sheena Janson Kelly, Rajané Katurah Brown, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil, Wendy Lehr, and Karen Wiese-Thompson

My thoughts: We only got to see the first act of this play with music, and it left me wanting more (especially because Act I ended with an approaching hurricane). It deals with the environment (the very real danger of coastal Louisiana becoming permanently flooded, with towns disappearing into the ocean), politics (an outside organization coming into the town and telling them the plans for preventing flooding, which the townspeople are not happy with), personal relationships, the legend of pirate Jean Lafitte, and a theater troupe on a barge making a musical about the town. There's a lot going on and a lot of specifically drawn characters, and I hope to see more of this one. Oh, and the music is pretty great too.

The History of Religion, February 3-4
by Playwrights’ Center Core Writer Carlyle Brown
From memoir to myth, from Sugar Hill to the Caribbean, The History of Religion travels in time and space to examine humanity’s relationship with faith, bringing us face-to-face with the biggest question of our lives: in a world full of pain, sorrow, and suffering, what makes life worth living? Set against a musical backdrop by multi-instrumentalist Victor Zupanc, playwright/ performer Carlyle Brown calls us into worship, taking the audience on a journey from mystery to revelation and back again.

Tiny Houses, March 4-5 2019
by Playwrights’ Center Core Writer Stefanie Zadravec
On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Flight MH-17 rained down upon a tiny, war-torn Eastern Ukraine village by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russian Separatists. Bodies and objects alike become fodder for those trying to escape the circumstances in which they were born. Tiny Houses is a comic riff on Pandora’s Box that explores the ripple effect on several women who suddenly realize they can disrupt the status quo.

Director: Sarah Rasmussen
Dramaturg: Wendy Weckwerth
Set Design Consultant: Chelsea Warren
Apprentice Stage Manager: Danylo Loutchko
Cast: Rufus Collins, Kelsey Didion, Linda Kelsey, John Catron, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Sasha Andreev, Christina Baldwin and Serena Brook

My thoughts:
This epic play imagines the lives of several people affected by the shooting down of flight MH17, including a world-renowned AIDS researcher, his daughter, villagers at the sight of the crash, and an American woman who came in contact with some of the passengers. Set in locations as varied as Schiphol airport, a shed in a small Ukrainian village, a nice home in Amsterdam, and a Cleveland living room, the play uses this tragedy of war to go deeper in exploring the human condition, including politics, war, relationships, and family. But despite the heavy subject, the play is very funny, very human. And this incredible cast brings these many different humans to life in their varied accents. I can't wait to see this play fully staged. Final thought: Christina Baldwin should do airport announcements everywhere always.

by Playwrights’ Center Core Writer Kim Euell
The Dance is a play exploring how epic events impact the personal relationships between three ambitious young people (two African American artists and an activist attorney) as they struggle to define their identities, values, and commitments. Set against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela’s prison release and historic visit to the Bay Area, the play strives to capture the zeitgeist of this momentous period when the convergence of the anti-Apartheid movement, the crack epidemic, The War on Drugs, and the ascendance of Hip-hop culture impacted communities of color in the US.

Director: Shá Cage
Apprentice Stage Manager: Bronwen Chan
DJ: DJ Michele Be
Cast: Rajané Katurah Brown, Johannah Easley, Charles Logan, Jorrell Watkins, Neal Skoy
Stage directions: Vinecia Coleman

My thoughts: Interesting characters, interesting relationships, and set at a very specific time and place - Oakland in 1990. It explores issues like race, politics, art, and the responsibility of artists, specifically artists of color, to make a statement about the world through their art. Multiple art forms are included; one of the artists is a painter so presumably we might see some paintings in a final production, some of the scenes are in poetry/spoken word, and the play began with a video of a beautiful dance on a swing and includes a "muse" character who dances. This creates for a lot of interest and diversity in storytelling as we revisit this pivotal time in our history.