Staged readings of works by Hansol Jung, Walt McGough, Philana Omorotionmwan, Andrew P. Saito, Jonathan Spector and Sarah Sander make up the 39th Bay Area Playwrights Festival. (Courtesy Photos)

Playwrights tackle modern issues in new works fest

Six brand-new plays delve into themes as contemporary as “cross-border social media romance gone awry” and “gamers’ alternate reality not an oasis after all” at the 39th annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

Starting Friday and running two weekends at Custom Made Theatre, the festival showcases the plays in their most basic form. Actors take the stage without sets or elaborate costumes, only scripts, after two weeks of rehearsal and, sometimes, just hours after the playwrights edit the texts.

The six works were selected from 500 submissions to the festival, which is presented by the Playwrights Foundation, one of the country’s top development groups dedicated to up-and-coming writers.

“Often playwrights are kind of the canary in coal mine. They’re often the first to speak about issues,” says the festival’s press agent David Hyry.

“Non-Player Character” is by avid gamer Walt McGough, who sets his lead character Katja in two worlds: an online role-playing game, and as a newcomer to Seattle trying to make it as a video game designer. In both, she’s flying solo in a male-centric gaming culture and online threats start becoming real.

McGough based the play on the Gamergate controversy of 2014, and challenged himself to create, he says, “something that feels like a Twitter onslaught, a phone that won’t stop ringing … how to make that feeling, for the audience, as scary and intimidating as it does for the character who is in it.”

Recent Yale playwriting graduate Hansol Jung’s “Wild Goose Dreams” is set in Korean social media where two lovers meet and then unravel.

Festival artistic director Amy Mueller says, “Even within the reading I shed a tear.” It’s punctuated by an experimental score of internet chatter by composer Paul Castles (whose website features a song about toilets as modern urban shrines to water).

Philana Omorotionmwan’s “Before Evening Comes,” set in 2083, imagines a future in which young black men’s right legs are systematically amputated in a twisted coming-of-age initiation ritual, and the to-be-amputees seem excited about it.

The darkly comedic “Good, Better, Best, Bested” is by Jonathan Spector, one of 10 Playwrights Foundation residents, whose characters rambunctiously stumble around Las Vegas’ “particularly American form of cultural appropriation” in the midst of a horrifying international crisis and drunkenly question whether to let it dampen their fun.

Playwrights Foundation residency alumnus Andrew P. Saito’s “whisper fish” highlights the little-known history of Japanese-Peruvians in World War II Peru threatened with deportation to internment camps in Crystal City, Texas. It’s told through a tale of two estranged adult siblings amid dancing devils, a big band-era orchestra of fish and other elements of magical realism.

A suburban Midwestern family is upended in Sarah Sander’s “Sycamore,” which explores sibling rivalry as the kids compete for the amorous attention of a mysterious new neighbor boy and their conflict calls the parents’ bond into question.

Festival claim to fame: “Grounded” by George Brant, which got its start at the festival in 2012, is being adapted into a film starring Anne Hathaway as a pregnant Air Force fighter pilot reassigned to remotely operating killer drones.

Bay Area Playwrights Festival
Where: Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St, S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays; noon, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays; closes July 24
Tickets: $15-$90 for VIP pass
Contact: (415) 626-2176, www.bayareaplaywrightsfestival.orgAndrew P. SaitoBay Area Playwrights FestivalHansol JungJonathan Spectornew playsPhilana OmorotionmwanPlaywrights FoundationSarah SanderTheaterWalt McGough

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Anti-eviction demonstrators rally outside San Francisco Superior Court. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Report: Unpaid rent due to COVID-19 could be up to $32.7M per month

A new city report that attempts to quantify how much rent has… Continue reading

Music venues around The City have largely been unable to reopen due to ongoing pandemic health orders. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF to cut $2.5M in fees to help 300 nightlife venues

San Francisco will cut $2.5 million in fees for hundreds of entertainment… Continue reading

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett departs the U.S. Capitol on October 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after Ginsburg’s death. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
GOP senators confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court in partisan vote

By Jennifer Haberkorn Los Angeles Times The Senate on Monday confirmed Judge… Continue reading

Curator Tim Burgard looks over a section of the galleries comprising “The de Young Open,” a huge, varied collection of work by Bay Area artists. (Photo courtesy Gary Sexton/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Bay Area artists jam-pack vivid ‘de Young Open’

Huge exhibition — with works for sale — showcases diversity, supports community

SF Board of Education vice president Gabriela Lopez and commissioner Alison Collins listen at a news conference condemning recent racist and social media attacks targeted at them and the two student representatives on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Online attacks on school board members denounced by city officials

City officials on Monday condemned the targeting of school board members, both… Continue reading

Most Read