Square Mama gives good plays a second chance

Not every play is an instant hit — sometimes a production slips under the radar of critics and audiences or simply fails to impress the first time around.

Yet that doesn’t mean a play should be written off as a flop for good — at least not according to Randy Warren, director of the new Bay Area theater company Square Mama Productions. Warren, along with wife and Square Mama partner Suki O’Brien, are on a mission to give lesser-known plays a second chance.

“There’s a real gap in theater,” Warren says. “Not just in the Bay Area, but everywhere. There are a lot of companies developing new plays or reviving big hits, but there are also a lot of very good plays that were not outright commercial successes that haven’t been seen in San Francisco yet and deserve to be.”

Square Mama Productions’ first attempt at connecting theatergoers with something other than stage staples such as “Grease” is a
production of Terrence McNally’s “Bad Habits.”

The two-act comedy, which runs through the end of the month at Theatre Rhinoceros, follows two groups of patients at separate sanatoriums where they either indulge or suppress their vices.

While McNally’s work is award-winning and well respected, the 1974 comedy isn’t the best-known piece by the fellow who wrote “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

“We chose it because it hardly gets seen around here and it wasn’t McNally’s megahit,” says Warren. “It’s from an era that he’s not really associated with anymore. We felt that there were audiences that haven’t been exposed to it and would really enjoy it. And, from an artistic standpoint, it was extraordinarily fulfilling to work on.”

When “Bad Habits” opened off-Broadway in 1974 it was a hit. It eventually moved to Broadway, where it didn’t resonate with audiences and closed shortly thereafter. While Warren isn’t able to explain why, exactly, the play did well in one venue and not another, he does have a theory.

“The thing is that some of these plays have a more intimate feel to them and that’s part of their success,” he says. “When you take them and move them to a bigger theater they lose that intimacy and it takes away from the audiences’ connection and the experience isn’t as successful.”

Since Square Mama Productions has yet to plant its roots at a particular venue, Warren isn’t able to guarantee just where or what the company’s next production will be, but he isn’t looking at that as a problem — it’s all part of the experience.

“We’re in a different position than other companies because we’re nomadic; we don’t have a season and we don’t have a home,” he says. “We’re respecting our own ignorance and taking in all these learning opportunities. Once we find a place that makes financial sense, we can go from there and do our best to fill that gap in Bay Area theater.”

If you go

Bad Habits

Presented by Square Mama Productions

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 30

Where: Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St., San Francisco

Tickets: $15 to $25

Contact: (415) 861-5079 or visit www.squaremama.com

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