New plays, small packages 

click to enlarge Musical satire: Gabriel Grilli, left, Lisa Morse and Roselyn Hallett, center front, are funny in Ignacio Zulueta’s “Meet the Breeders.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Musical satire: Gabriel Grilli, left, Lisa Morse and Roselyn Hallett, center front, are funny in Ignacio Zulueta’s “Meet the Breeders.”

It’s hard not to judge PlayGround’s seven 10-minute plays — chosen from 177 written by 36 selected writers — according to how well they fit the short format.

Onstage at Thick House, the offerings are part of “Best of PlayGround 16,” the 16th annual festival presented by the group dedicated to developing new local voices for theater.

Even though some of the pieces may evolve into longer plays and go on to be produced at regional theaters, this year’s batch seems less compelling, less ideally tailored to the required length, than last year’s group.

Still, the team of professional directors (which includes artistic director Jim Kleinmann) and an eight-member acting ensemble make for a varied and lightly entertaining evening.

PlayGround regular Garret Jon Groenveld’s “Childless,” inspired by the assigned prompt “heroes/heroines,” is an adaptation of the Greek tragedy “Medea,” but the only aspect of it that resonates in short form is Medea’s creepy-clever song “My Boys,” with Groenveld’s lyrics set to Christopher Winslow’s original composition.

A more successful take on that same prompt, and also conceived as a minimusical, is Ignacio Zulueta’s “Meet the Breeders,” a very funny nightmare of a satire (Zulueta’s lyrics, Don Seaver’s tune) about a pair of new parents foisting their obnoxiously baby-centric bliss upon an appalled and unreceptive young woman.

Of the three plays prompted by the theme “Bay Area stories,” Genevieve Jessee’s “Ships in the Day” is the most interesting. In it, three young “Rosie the Riveters” work and talk in the East Bay shipyards during World War II.

Jessee throws several topics into the mix: working women’s rights, wartime ethnic bigotry, the heartache of having husbands fighting overseas. Hopefully she’ll develop her ideas for a longer version.

On the same theme, Robin Lynn Rodriguez uses a quasi-spoken-word style for a spoof of young mothers in Oakland struggling with contemporary child-rearing issues. The approach is witty, but the issues themselves offer no fresh insight.

Cleavon Smith has a provocative idea in his black family drama “You Eat What You Kill,” but like Jessee, he needs a bigger canvas to fully explore it.

Best of the lot is Kirk Shimano’s “Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos,” a little gem about the loosening up of a straight-laced librarian, as perceived by a few young observers. Tight, layered and surprising, it perfectly suits the format du jour and reveals Shimano as a promising playwright.

Best of PlayGround 16

Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; closes May 27

Tickets: $25 to $40

Contact: Call (415) 992-6677 or visit www.PlayGround-sf.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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