Six completely original plays written in four and a half days and rehearsed for one and a half hours on the day of the performance hardly seems like a recipe for success. Yet PlayGround’s Monday Night series is in its 24th season of doing just that. The 2017-2018 season, which runs monthly from October to March, kicked off last Monday night with the six best 10-minute plays from 47 Bay Area playwrights writing on the theme “In the beginning …”
PlayGround has long been a supporter of up-and-coming local talent, hosting this series, as well as a multitude of other programs, including commissioning full-length plays. Quite fittingly, the Monday Night series seemed casual and inviting, with actors running upstage from the audience, script in hand, to start the next 10-minute play.
The night began with “Spiskammers,” focusing on a young couple searching for houses and confronting their financial situation, while fighting reluctance to move out of their parents’ house. This feeling of uncertainty is displayed somewhat convincingly through “feeling naked,” as all the characters eventually physically take off a majority of their clothes, garnering chuckles from the audience at the absurdity of the idea.
Many of the plays kept the audience in the dark for the majority of the time, building suspense and keeping our engagement by slowly revealing crucial pieces of the characters’ backstories.
“Cat Town” is a silly exploration of a pet adoption story from the cat’s point of view, which was certainly amusing with its frequent double entendres but overall a bit lackluster in theme.
On the other hand, “Fresh Squeezed Please” employed this tactic of selectively, omitting details to a hilarious result. We’re introduced to a mother who spends the large majority of the play bombastically building up to an announcement — “You’re adopted!” — after which we find out that her son is in fact her biological son but simply adopted by another family. Jennifer McGeorge is perfectly maniacal and theatrical as the mother, carrying much of the humor of the play.
“Where to Begin?” dove into the world of music, specifically the uncertainties and anxieties around creating art amid constant belittling and judgment. The play was largely composed of monologues, set to music that matched the star’s speech and delivered a sincere take on the difficulties of developing original art.
What was the most compelling throughout the night was when the playwrights took a nonlinear approach to time and space, jumping from one scene to the next, changing either the time or location, without physically changing the set or the scene, leaving the audience to piece together the story non-chronologically.
In “Every Beginning,” we witness an old couple in an argument and hinting at a divorce. But through the course of the play, we gain perspective into their entire timeline and background, as both the audience and the actors onstage watch a younger version of the couple. Through an exploration of their history, the couple learns to accept the end of their marriage, while simultaneously appreciating the joy they once shared.
On the similar theme of the ending of a relationship, “Anna Considers a Cocktail,” stars a high-strung character who comically refuses to drink her bartender’s cocktail because she is fixated on the endless potential of the cocktail before she drinks it. But what begins as a caricature of a character turns into an exploration of her past relationship through humorous metaphors that come together at the end to ultimately convey her fear of losing the thrill of novelty in new beginnings.
The plays varied greatly, ranging from confusing to contemplative to hilarious, but all undoubtedly managed to keep the audience’s interest and curiosity, particularly because none of the plays took a particularly straightforward approach to storytelling. The short length allowed them to be much more experimental than fully fleshed-out narratives, yet impactful all the same.
Monday Night Playground runs from October to March on the third Monday of each month at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.