Linda Amayo-Hassan’s “La Vida Lobo” — the 2019 premiere is pictured – is among the myriad works in PlayGround Zoom Fest; billed as the nation’s largest digital new play festival and presented by the renowned Bay Area theater development lab, it runs through June 14. (Courtesy Mellophoto.com)

PlayGround celebrates 25 years with big Zoom Fest

Local theaters expand online activity with plentiful offerings

Local theaters continue to expand online activity with readings of short works and full-length plays, archival videos of past productions, podcasts of all sorts, new scripts for perusal and more.

And audiences and producers are learning what works best in a Zoom format.

PlayGround Zoom Fest

PlayGround Artistic Director Jim Kleinmann and colleagues have expanded the company’s annual festival of new works to include one-acts, full plays, films, discussions and other events, in celebration of the group’s 25th anniversary.

The three best of the 12 shorts included “La Vida Lobo” by Linda Amayo-Hassan, in which two lovelorn wolves (Ed Parsario and Carlos Aguirre),

each with identical full-moon backgrounds, howl for love of Lola (Livia Gomes Demarchi). Directed by Ivan Rivas, the show worked, with its mournful caterwauling; rhyming couplets (with a few “Romeo and Juliet” tropes thrown in); and even an abstract physical fight between the two competing, and presumably environmentally threatened, wolves. The acting was great in this clever little once-act that seems so perfect for these lonesome times.

The other two standouts were both charmingly daffy skewed folktales, a genre that seems to suit Zoom’s sets of portrait-like squares.

In “Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos” by Kirk Shimano, directed by Jully Lee, teenagers gossip maliciously about the unexpected death of the school librarian. Was it a random attack? When we meet the titular character, who’s cheerfully eccentric as played by Cindy Goldfield, she turns out to be an especially lucky woman: She makes all her decisions, from the most inconsequential to the most important, by flipping a coin — which always comes up heads. Shimano takes a playful look at the randomness—or not — of Fate.

And in Aaron Loeb’s “All Thumbs,” the characters include Peter Pan, the miller and his compulsively cookie-baking wife and a couple of gleeful weirdos obsessed with drilling cavities into teeth. When the miller’s wife has a teeny-weeny baby, she’s called Thumbalina. Loeb’s writing is as wacky as ever — the characters even complain about the script — and, with Stacy Ross narrating and clown Sara Moore among director Frieda de Lackner’s well-chosen cast, the tiny play proved delightfully Zoomable.

Ross also appeared in several roles in Trevor Allen’s drama “Lolita Roadtrip,” developed at PlayGround and later premiered at San Jose Stage. At almost 2 ½ hours it too seemed Zoom-friendly, with its four excellent actors weaving their way expertly through dialogues and monologues. It’s a complex, poetic and at times disturbing play, its main action indeed involving a road trip.

Julia (the luminous Chloe Bronzan), who’s doing her doctoral dissertation on Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” sets out to retrace the Russian-born author’s own 1941 journey westward from New York. She takes along a stranger, a feckless teenage boy (Christian Wilburn). Other characters include a professor lecturing on “Lolita” as well as Nabokov (both played by Rolf Saxon) describing the intricate metamorphosis of the butterfly (Nabokov was an amateur lepidopterist).

Each of the principal characters has an urgent story to tell, all of which intersect as the play draws to a dramatic, even spooky, ending. Playwright Allen’s multiple themes explore Nabokov’s controversial legacy, the repercussions of pedophilia and perhaps the way that humans, as well as butterflies, morph over time. It’s a lot of material to digest at one sitting, but well worth it. Allen says this recording will soon be available at https://www.blackboxtheatre.com/. The site also offers “The Creature,” Allen’s adaptation of “Frankenstein,” featuring the brilliant James Carpenter.

Nearly as long as “Lolita Roadtrip” is Patricia Cotter’s “1980 or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson,” directed by M. Graham Smith. It’s set during the 1980 presidential race in which Ronald Reagan handily defeated Jimmy Carter, with Cotter looking at the Boston campaign headquarters of Independent candidate John B. Anderson.

The drama examines the interaction among four volunteers: a naïve 19-year-old intern (played by Ash Malloy); a frazzled working-class mom/head coordinator (Martha Brigham); her wealthy, troubled co-coordinator (Makena Miller); and a newly arrived interloper (Michael Curry). That interaction is packed with confessions, tears, fights, romance, despair, anxiety, competition, political arguments, jealousy and political rants.

In that regard, Cotter’s script feels unfocused, which partly could have to do with seeing all that fraught interaction laid out so unadorned, on a screen full of faces, but the actors, glancing at their scripts only minimally (although Miller unfortunately stumbling through many lines), deftly nailed the intricacies of their well-rounded characters.

The live-streamed festival continues until June 14 at https://playground-sf.org/zoomfest/, and it’s almost entirely free.

KALW’s Corona Radio Theater

At KALW-FM, host David Latulippe has been presenting play readings by local theater companies every Thursday at 1 pm, along with other arts-related material. Some, due to licensing restrictions, are only available live-streamed, while others remain online. Among those currently available is a San Francisco Playhouse reading of Lucille Fletcher’s nightmarish “Sorry Wrong Number” from the golden age of radio drama, and it’s a perfect choice for these times when many of us feel helpless. It features a bedridden “invalid” alone at home who accidentally overhears a party-line phone conversation between two thugs planning to murder a woman. The Playhouse’s Susi Damilano is great as the increasingly hysterical central figure in this short and succinct drama. Artistic director Bill English plays a variety of male voices, as does Wera von Wulfen. Go to https://www.kalw.org/programs/open-air-0#stream/0

Theatre Rhinoceros

The City’s longest-running gay theater has no shortage of material on its website, including artistic director John Fisher’s own one-man shows on various topics. Among the many videos is “A Dog Dreams,” in Zoom format on YouTube. The short two-hander by Jeffrey Fischer-Smith was originally produced by San Francisco’s Bindlestiff four years ago, and the two actors, Stan Stone and Cesar Cadabes, directed by Alan Quismorio, have a good handle on their characters. It’s a touching, dream-like little play, slow but heartfelt, about eternal connections, and involves a ghost. An after-talk is also included. Go to: http://therhino.org/

Theater

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