Gardley gets a Glickman

Marcus Gardley

Oakland playwright Marcus Gardley (right, photo by Jared Oates) is the winner of the Will Glickman Award for the best new play to have its premiere in the Bay Area in 2014. The play is The House that will not Stand, loosely based on Federico Garcìa Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, which had its premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in February of 2014. Read my review of the show here.

The award, administered by Theatre Bay Area comes with a $4,000 cash award for the writer and a plaque for the producing theater. Gardley told TBA: ““I’m thrilled to be accepting this award. I’m extremely proud of The House that will not Stand’s world premiere at Berkeley Rep and eternally grateful to have participated in The Ground Floor, which provided the creative space and artistic support to develop the play. The play has been enthusiastically received at Yale Rep and Tricycle Theatre in London. But this recognition from the Bay Area theatre community where I have deep roots is truly an honor.”​

House 1

This year’s winner was chosen by a judging panel comprising Bay Area theater critics Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Avila of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Karen D’Souza of the San Jose Mercury News, Chad Jones of and Sam Hurwitt of KQED Arts and the Marin Independent Journal. The Glickman Award-winning play is usually published each year in the July/August issue of Theatre Bay Area magazine.

This year’s judges cited three other strong local premieres as runners-up: Hir by Taylor Mac (Magic Theatre); Hundred Days by Abigail Bengson, Shaun Bengson and Kate E. Ryan (Z Space) and The Scion by Brian Copeland (The Marsh).

Gardley and Berkeley Rep will receive their awards at Theatre Bay Area’s Annual Conference on April 13, which happens to be taking place at Berkeley Rep.

Photo above: Petronia Paley (as Marie Josephine) and Harriett D. Foy (as Makeda, background), starred in Berkeley Rep’s world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s The House that will not Stand, a comedic drama about free women of color in 1836 New Orleans. Photo courtesy of

Here’s a complete list of Glickman Award winners (the award is made in the year following the show’s premiere):

2014 Ideation, Aaron Loeb (San Francisco Playhouse)
2013 The Hundred Flowers Project, Christopher Chen (Crowded Fire/Playwrights Foundation)
2012 The North Pool, Rajiv Joseph (TheatreWorks)
2011 Oedipus el Rey, Luis Alfaro (Magic)
2010 In the Next Room, Sarah Ruhl (Berkeley Rep)
2009 Beowulf, Jason Craig (Shotgun Players)
2008 Tings Dey Happen, Dan Hoyle (Marsh)
2007 Hunter Gatherers, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (Killing My Lobster)
2006 The People’s Temple, Leigh Fondakowski et al (Berkeley Rep)
2005 Dog Act, Liz Duffy Adams (Shotgun)
2004 Soul of a Whore, Denis Johnson (Campo Santo)
2003 Five Flights, Adam Bock (Encore)
2002 Dominant Looking Males, Brighde Mullins (Thick Description)
2001 Everything’s Ducky, Bill Russell & Jeffrey Hatcher (TheatreWorks)
2000 The Trail of Her Inner Thigh, Erin Cressida Wilson (Campo Santo)
1999 Combat!, John Fisher (Rhino)
1998 Civil Sex, Brian Freeman (Marsh)
1997 Hurricane/Mauvais Temps, Anne Galjour (Berkeley Rep)
1996 Medea, the Musical, John Fisher (Sassy Mouth)
1995 Rush Limbaugh in Night School, Charlie Varon (Marsh)
1994 Santos & Santos, Octavio Solis (Thick Description)
1993 Heroes and Saints, Cherrie Moraga (Brava)
1992 Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Tony Kushner (Eureka)
1991 Political Wife, Bill Talen (Life on the Water)
1990 Pick Up Ax, Anthony Clarvoe (Eureka)
1989 Yankee Dawg You Die, Philip Kan Gotanda (Berkeley Rep)
1988 Webster Street Blues, Warren Kubota (Asian American)
1987 Life of the Party, Doug Holsclaw (Rhino)
1986 Deer Rose, Tony Pelligrino (Theatre on the Square)
1985 The Couch, Lynne Kaufman (Magic)
1984 Private Scenes, Joel Homer (Magic)

Ideation redux: still smart, thrilling, funny

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The team – (from left) Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Michael Ray Wisely and Ben Euphrat – deals with a surprise personnel issue in the SF Playhouse main stage debut of Aaron Loeb’s Ideation. Below: Superstars of management consulting, Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips, left), Sandeep (Jason Kapoor, center) and Ted (Michael Ray Wisely), return from a job in Crete, which they found full of cretins. Photos by Jessica Palopoli (photo of Aaron Loeb by Lauren English)

In November of last year I reviewed a play by Bay Area playwright Aaron Loeb, and I loved it. That play, Ideation, was part of San Francisco Playhouse’s Sand Box Series, an incubator for new works. For a new play, Ideation was in remarkably good shape and went on to win the Glickman Award, which is given to the best play to have its world premiere in the Bay Area.

Knowing a good thing when he saw it, SF Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English, decided to open his 12th main stage season with Ideation – same director (Josh Costello), same sterling cast (Ben Euphrat, Jason Kapoor, Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips and Michael Ray Wisely).

The results are just as they should be. Loeb has tweaked the play a bit. The ending has more punch, and both the thrills and the laughs have been punched up a few notches. It’s one of the best plays you’ll see about paranoia and how quickly the seemingly “normal” can become abnormally scary.

I stand by my original review (read it here) and feel like improvements have been made (including a slick set by English) that make Ideation the must-see play of the fall.

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I wrote a tiny feature on Ideation for the San Francisco Chronicle (read it here), but Loeb submitted himself to an email interview what was too good not to share. So here is the interview in its entirety.

Q: What inspired you to write Ideation?
I was inspired by my work in tech (video games, specifically) and also my wife’s work as an international human rights lawyer at the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco. I had just started working with former management consultants for the first time in my life and I was entranced by their language and their thinking process. I was amazed by the way they could take any problem and break it down into its component parts, then relentlessly problem solve until they made progress.

At the same time, my wife was in the midst of leading a civil suit against the former defense minister of Somalia, filed by victims of the genocide and crimes against humanity in Somalia and Somaliland in the 80s. I learned in her preparation and work on the case about the systematic and methodical ways in which the crimes were planned.

Aaron Loeb
Somehow, the two things became connected and I was writing a play about management consultants working on something possibly terrible.

Q: How (if at all) has Ideation changed since its Sandbox premiere last year and how have you approached this second production?
I’ve done some significant rewrites to Ideation – though they might not be noticeable to everyone. I’ve strengthened the relationships of the characters and clarified the build-up to the ending of the play. Some of the changes are based on feedback I received from the first run. Some of it is to resolve issues I was never completely happy with.

There was a section in the middle of the play that I always felt was a bit too circular (as in, the characters discuss a problem once, then they discuss it again, just 10 percent more intensely). I’ve flattened out that circle now so that it’s a steady progression. 

A lot of the changes are in the construction of the play, not in any of the story elements. The biggest changes are in Hannah’s character to make it clearer who she is and to strengthen the fact that this is her story.

One of the things I’m so happy about in this next production is that the artistic team has remained intact. Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Michael Ray Wisely, Jason Kapoor and Ben Euphrat are all recreating their roles from the first run and Josh Costello is directing once again. Bill English is designing the set this time, but also serves in his ongoing capacity as my unerringly honest reader; we’ve done three world premieres together and now have a shorthand that is pretty irreplaceable. 

Because it’s the same team together again, we have the chance to go deeper than we did last time. It’s a rare, rare opportunity.
Q: What did winning the Glickman Award for Ideation mean to you?
Any time you win an award with the pedigree of the Glickman, it means a lot. Angels in America won the Glickman with its world premiere. It’s an award with an incredible history, and it means the world to me to have been honored in such a way.

That said, the part of winning the Glickman I will always remember is the award ceremony at the annual Theatre Bay Area conference. Because this is an award bestowed by local theater critics, at the ceremony three of the judges of the award – Robert Hurwitt, Sam Hurwitt and someone calling himself “Chad Jones” (if that is his real name) – presented the award and each spoke about my writing. They didn’t talk about Ideation only, but about all of my plays. 

I don’t know any of the three men very well personally (I’m Facebook friends with two of them, but you could count the hours I’ve spent with the three on one hand), but each of them spoke about my work with such clarity, it was as though we were old friends. 

What a remarkable thing, I thought. I’ve had a years-long conversation with each of them through the theater.

This is only possible in a community. The play was born here in the Bay Area (as part of Just Theater‘s Play Lab), then developed at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, then premiered at SF Playhouse, then embraced by the Bay Area’s top critics.

As a writer, it is possible to feel terribly alone most of the time. You wonder if anyone will ever hear you. Winning the Glickman, I felt the embrace of my entire community, which was particularly gratifying because it gave me an opportunity to publicly thank everyone who helped me bring the play to life.

Ideation continues through Nov. 8 at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$120. Call 415-677-9596 or visit

Playwright Jordan Puckett ready for prime time

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The cast of Jordan Puckett’s Inevitable includes, from left, Molly Noble, Carlye Pollack and Keith Burkland. The play is part of San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series supporting new work. Photo by Lauren English

We have a Theater Dogs guest writer! Welcome Scott Lucas of San Francisco magazine. Scott st down with playwright Jordan Puckett, whose Inevitable runs through March 23rd as part of San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series.

Scott Lucas:
With the opening of Inevitable, it’s not only the first performance of this play, but the first time any of your plays has been done, right?

Jordan Puckett:
I’ve had readings of Inevitable before, though it’s had many titles and versions. This is the world premiere. It’s the first production of it, and my first production ever.

SL: The play is a sort of magic realism, in which a dying woman decides she’s going to stop time to keep her family together. Where’d that idea come from?

JP: Why would somebody be so interested in stopping time? How about if you were dying? I started looking at Huntington’s disease, which is genetic. You have a 50 percent chance of causing your child to go through the same pain. It’d be through no fault of your own. It’s pure genetics.

SL: The play unfolds in a non-linear fashion. Why?

JP: I wanted the audience to experience what it was like going through the disease. I took the play — which I had originally moved straight through time — and broke it up to be non-linear.

SL: You’re in your early 20s and you started writing this play in college.

JP: Yes. I went to Northwestern. I started writing this three years ago. In my senior year, I took a playwriting sequence.

SL: Where did it go from there?

JP: I went back to it this November and did major rewrites. We decided to do it at the SF Playhouse in December. It’s been shortened significantly. It was 80 pages and now it’s 65. We’ve lost five pages just this week. We’re seeing what doesn’t work and taking away dialogue so we can see the physicality. Lauren English, the director, has created this world that runs between reality and a dreamscape — not a peaceful dream, but haunting.

SL: What’s it like watching the rehearsals? It must be incredible to see the actors doing what you tell them – like something out of Being John Malkovich.

JP: It’s amazing, but it becomes a conversation. They say to me, “I don’t know why my character is saying this?” I say, oh yeah, that was from an earlier draft and it doesn’t work anymore. So we cut.

I’d be terrified. I get scared whenever I think about someone reading anything that I’ve written.

I’m terrified every day, but that’s where good art comes from. If you’re not terrified you’re not doing something that’s worth it.

SL: One of the big themes it deals with is the relationship between mothers and daughters. You don’t have any daughters, but you — I presume — have a mother. How much is personal in the play?

JP: My mother and I have a wonderful relationship. That part is not at all taken from her. Of course it’s impossible not to be somewhat influenced, but it’s much more of an idea study.

SL: What’s core idea, then?

JP: It’s this lovely idea that the world is constantly getting better because we as parents are sending out children that are better people than we are. We manifest so much from our parents — and we hope to pass on our best qualities to our children.

SL: What are you working on next?

I’m working a play about the intersection of news and politics, especially on how consumers of political news pay more attention to the gossip.

Anything else?

JP: I have the beginnings of many plays. I’m also interested in theater as a medium and how to do audience interaction without imposing on the audience. I have a piece that I’m working on right now that’s set in cars on the L line in Chicago. The actors are in the train cars with the audience, sitting next to them. It would be like four cars traced out in the seats, so you could see what was happening in your car and in the others.

SL: Parting thoughts?

JP: You should break your watch — see what happens.


Jordan Puckett’s Inevitable continues through March 23rd at the San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series at the Un-scripted Theater, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20. Call 415-677-9596 or visit

The Annie Baker dead poets society

Annie Baker 2
Playwright Annie Baker is finally making a splash in the Bay Area. This year, three of her plays will have played in Berkeley, San Francisco and Marin. What took so darn long?

So far, playwright Annie Baker is two for two in the Bay Area. It took a while for the country’s hottest young playwright to make her mark locally, but she has done it now. Twice. And a third is yet to come later in the summer.

Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company was the first to produce Baker locally with Body Awareness (read my review here). Then SF Playhouse did The Aliens (running through May 5, read my review here). The Baker trilogy concludes (at least for now) in August when Marin Theatre Company and Encore Theatre Company partner on Circle Mirror Transformation.

There’s always a danger when a new playwright sizzles into popular consciousness that there will be a backlash, that the writer will be praised one day then smashed for being overrated the next. I don’t think that will happen with Baker, at least not here. Her writing is too interesting, too compassionate. So far the plays have just gotten better.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Baker via email for a San Francisco Chronicle story. She was even charming in cyberspace. Read the interview here.

Here’s my favorite part of our exchange:

Q: After Emily Dickinson, are you now the second-most famous writer to come from Amherst, Mass.?
Ha ha ha. Definitely not. There’s Robert Frost, Chinua Achebe, Helen Hunt Jackson, Noah Webster, etc. But I love Emily Dickinson. I used to hang out at her grave when I was a kid and push pennies in the dirt so she’d have some spending money in heaven.

[bonus video]
Here’s a look at SF Playhouse’s production of The Aliens by Annie Baker.


The Aliens continues through May 5 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$70. Call 415-677-9596 or visit

Bill Cain opens a new book for Bible

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Tyler Pierce is Bill and Linda Gehringer is his mother, Mary, in the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of Below: Playwright Bill Cain. Photo by Jenny Graham

Bill Cain’s last two Bay Area outings, Equivocation and 9 Circles, both at Marin Theatre Company, were absolutely fantastic. So there’s reason to be excited about the world premiere of his latest play, How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. With great compassion, intelligence and humor, Cain writes about his parents and his older brother in a play that flips back and forth in time as Cain cares for his dying mother.

I talked to Cain about the play for an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

As usual, there wasn’t enough space in the story to include all of Cain’s interview, so I’d like to include a few more morsels here.

It’s somewhat ironic that for a play about “writing a new book” that when Cain set out to chronicle his family, he didn’t write a play first. He wrote a book. “The language I speak is the language of stage and ritual,” Cain says. “So why did I write a book? I don’t know exactly, but all of it comes out of my desire to celebrate my family. I shared parts of the book with my brother, and he was very responsive to it. ‘Yes, that’s who we were,’ he said. The book didn’t make either of us nervous in the way the play does. The enacting of a ritual is a frightening thing. It’s where taboos are broken. The lights go out in the theater, the lights come up on the stage. You enter a private space. With a book, you read it in your own space and time. It’s difficult to take a private thing into a public arena.”

Bill Cain

In writing about his parents’ marriage, Cain thought about the kind of marriages we’re used to seeing on stage – George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Willy and Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman – and the high drama involved. His parents didn’t display that kind of drama. “But there’s drama as well in the effort of people to love one another,” Cain says, “to put themselves aside to make space for the other. This play is the story of a man and a woman, both of whom are making each other’s fullness of life possible by creating space for the other. You don’t see that too often on stage. It’s a hard thing to dramatize and usually relegated to comedy, but there is drama to it, but maybe not in the way we’ve defined drama, with a protagonist and an antagonist. In the definition of a good marriage, there is no enemy. You don’t make the other the enemy, but that doesn’t mean there’s not struggle. It’s not George and Martha but rather Ralph and Alice. You treat that struggle with honest respect. Two people accept the foolishness of each other and stand by the other. That requires huge sacrifice, huge discipline.”

New Book is directed by Kent Nicholson, with whom Cain worked at Marin Theatre Company on 9 Circles. “I love working with Kent because he has a way of opening the room to the best idea, to the best impulse,” Cain says. “So everyone is involved fully, creating clarity. He puts it all together, but everyone’s questions help shape the outcome.”

With the new play, Cain says he hopes to create images and stories closer to people’s actual experiences rather than the ones we’re constantly handed. “It’s hard to see what our actual experience is,” Cain says. “Like right now, if you’re watching or reading the news, the only thing that seems to matter is the economy and we should be very afraid. But as a writer and as a Jesuit, I have to say, hey, wait a minute. Where was I touched by the infinite today? What actually was my experience? That’s where great works of art come from. My favorite work of art, my favorite book is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank lived in a world that told her what she was supposed to be, but she insisted on her own experience. She found huge darkness, and under it found a more luminous reality. That is available to all of us. What’s unique to you is what the world needs.”

Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible continues through Nov. 20 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $14.50 to $73. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit

Into the void with Will Eno; we do not move


Bathroom and beverage break: the cast of Will Eno’s Intermission includes (from left) David Sinaiko, Gwyneth Richards, Galen Murphy-Hoffman and Danielle O’Hare. Below: O’Hare as the title character in Lady Grey (in ever lower light). Photos by Rob Melrose

Will Eno builds some extraordinary bridges – between absurdist theater of the 1950s and now, between laughs that actually tickle and reality that is actually harsh, between ironic dismissal and deep, deep feeling.

I would happily lose myself in Eno’s world for days if possible – his combination of humor, desolation and intelligence come together in ways that make me incredibly happy. And incredibly sad. Thank whatever powers that be in the universe that Will Eno is writing for the theater and that he’s seemingly unaffected by anything remotely hipster or sappy or commercial.

Cutting Ball Theatre produced Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) in 2009 to great acclaim. Happily, the Cutting Ball-Eno collaboration continues. Three theater-related one-acts are now running at the EXIT on Taylor, and they’re every bit as engaging, hilarious and tinged with genius as Thom Pain.

Lady Grey (in ever lower light) contains two monologues and one multi-character play. They all confront the notion of theater as a “recreational” means to emotion, a gingerly step (as a group) into the maw of the abyss known as reality. We’re all alone, yet we’re all in it together.

“Let me guess – an audience, right? Or, wait, no – friends of the deceased? Family of the victim? Whoever you are, you’re very convincing. White people in chairs? Cheer up. You’re all very beautiful, in a very general way.” Those words are spoken by Lady Grey, the star of the first (and title) play. She assesses us and we her. As played by Danielle O’Hare, she is sharp, melancholy and a little distracted.

“It doesn’t work, my life, without people sitting there, staring, undressing me with their eyes, then undressing themselves, brushing their teeth in their minds and falling asleep, wishing they were dead. So, honestly, thank you,” Lady Grey continues, breaking down the fourth wall and giving us a sort of context for her monologue. She acknowledges that we’re all experiencing a piece of theater and the proceeds to tell us about the pains of life – childhood illness, show-and-tell day in school, lost love and the fear of oncoming night.


She sings a little and she jokes a lot. There are things she says that are outright hilarious and should bring down the house, but O’Hare’s delivery (under the direction of Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose) is so droll, so pained at times, that the laughs are tempered by lurking tragedy. It’s a powerful purgatory to inhabit – reveling in the artificiality of the theatrical experience yet savoring every real, prickly emotion that floats from stage.

“You could compare me to a summer’s day, though this really wouldn’t be necessary,” Lady Grey tells us. “I could be compared to a winter’s night, too, though by whom, and why? I’m like last Saturday. Cold, cloudy, over. I can’t be bothered.” She pauses the way a comedian should pause. Then she adds, “I can be bothered, I lied.”

The second piece, Intermission, is set just before and during intermission of a drama called The Mayor (the maudlin excerpt we hear is priceless). An older couple, David Sinaiko and Gwyneth Richards are sitting next to a younger couple, O’Hare and Galen Murphy-Hoffman. It’s an Albee-like set-up milked for all its worth, the age and experience of the older couple trumping the somewhat youthful ignorance of the younger, all the while satirizing serious drama (and the theater companies that underscore its very serious importance).

At one point the older man admonishes the younger: “But, son, do you have a mother? Do you love anything old? Have you ever lost anything, slowly? And if not, then, what experience are you hoping to see represented here? You are comparing this to what?” The artificiality of the theater suddenly seems quite small, especially in the shadow of a story the older man tells about losing his dog, Emily, after she was injured.

“She was like a member of the family,” the older woman adds.

“No, in fact, she was not like a member of the family,” her husband rejoins. “My father was like a member of the family. I’m like a member of the family. She was The Dog. Always there, never moody, living better and truer through life than any of us, by at least a factor of seven. She gave us many beautiful people years.”

In this funny little island of theatricality – the supposedly real space in between the fake parts – we get real drama, real feeling and the spectrum of life. We get a kinder, gentler Virginia Woolf in miniature with less booze. “This is very old-fashioned, somehow. All of us sitting here, having all these feelings, all lit up. It’s nice,” the older woman concludes. And so it is.

The final piece of this 85-minute evening (and that includes an actual 15-minute intermission between the first and second plays) is Mr. Theatre Comes Home Different, a showcase for Sinaiko to hurl scenery and mock the sturm und drang of the dramatic arts. He eats a flower, yearns (oh, how he yearns!) and hopes his fake emotions can somehow intersect with our own genuine emotions.

“Gentles all, my name is blank. And I have come and kicked things over. I have breathed badly. I will act quickly, entertain myself, and then leave,” Mr. Theatre tells us. “This is my character, as I would have you have it; and this, my interior life, as I would, for you, outwardly live it.” It’s a whirlwind performance full of Shakespearean notes, signifying nothing (and everything), and it made me think of something Lady Grey said earlier, “The unreadiness is all.”

Will Eno is his own particular kind of genius, and the showcase that is Lady Grey (in ever lower light) is just more evidence of that. To share the darkness with a Will Eno play is one of life’s pleasures. It’s as pretend and as real as it gets.



Lady Grey (in ever lower light) continues through April 10 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit for information.

Clybourne Park is amazing. But this is not a review.


The cast of ACT’s Clybourne Park includes (from left) Manoel Felciano, Rene Augesen, Emily Kitchens and Richard Theiriot. Photo by Erik Tomasson

Because I interviewed playwright Bruce Norris for the San Francisco Chronicle (read the interview here), I will not be reviewing his Clybourne Park at American Conservatory Theater.

Mr. Norris requests that journalists who interview him not review his work. I’m happy to respect that request, but know that it will be extremely difficult not to tell you how extraordinary this play is or that it’s the first absolutely-must-see show of 2011. A review might mention the extraordinarily deft hand of director Jonathan Moscone or how I’ll never hear Ray Charles’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” the same way again. But this is not a review.

And I absolutely won’t mention how exciting it is to encounter a play that stirs deep emotions, offers big laughs and makes you think very seriously about the nature of change.

If you want to see Clybourne Park — and you really should — information is below.


American Conservatory Theaer’s Clybourne Park continues an extended run through Feb. 20 at 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$88. Call 415-749-2228 or visit

Trevor Allen takes a Roadtrip

There’s bad news aplenty in the world, so it’s always nice to discover some bright spots of good news, especially in the theater world.

Trevor AllenSan Francisco playwright Trevor Allen, who had a sizable hit last fall with his adaptation of Frankenstein, received a walloping dose of good news the other day. PlayGround’s New Play Production Fund chose his play Lolita Roadtrip to receive a $15,000 grant for production at San Jose Stage Company next season.

“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity,” Allen said. “Jim Kleinmann and PlayGround have made a unique commitment with this new grant. By awarding the money directly to San Jose Stage Company to produce my play, they have insured that my work will actually have a life. In the past I have been the fortunate recipient of a few commissioning grants, which have allowed me the much needed time and support to create new plays. Of course, I wish there were more such opportunities for local playwrights because there are some amazing writers here who are truly deserving of recognition. But a play just sitting there on a laptop is like a blueprint for a house, it may look good on the page but the real test is to actually build it and then have a family move in and live in it for a while. Then you have a home. That’s what this production grant means to me. It has given my play a home.”

Here’s more from the folks at PlayGround:

Allen’s Lolita Roadtrip was originally commissioned and developed by PlayGround last season as part of the 2009 Best of PlayGround Festival. This darkly comic play follows Julia (a rebellious Stanford graduate student researching her thesis) and Danny (a hitchhiking teenaged runaway she picks up) as together they retrace novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov’s actual 1941 roadtrip from New York to Stanford. A series of cross country adventures ensues bringing them closer to Julia’s climactic confrontation with Professor Drake (the man who stole her innocence and plagiarized her journal). Nabokov’s spirit visits them and somewhere between the Grand Canyon and Los Vegas they confront their own dark pasts and discover what really causes a chrysalis to transform into a butterfly. Lolita Roadtrip will mark Trevor’s second world premiere with San Jose Stage Company, following the 2005 hit Tenders in the Fog, originally commissioned and developed by PlayGround. He is currently working on a third PlayGround commission, Golden Gate Fair (set in the Bay Area), which will receive a staged reading on Sunday, May 30 as part of the 2010 Best of PlayGround Festival at Thick House.

Allen said his experience working on Tenders in the Fog revealed San Jose Stage to be “wonderfully supportive of my work.” The new production is another homecoming for the San Jose native. “Besides a brief stint at UCLA for theatre I spent half my life there, and most of my family lives there. Now having spent the better part of two decades living and working in San Francisco, it is interesting to return as a playwright and have my words come to life there.”

Also receiving a PlayGround New Play Production grant (for $5,000) is Just Theater, which will produce Erin Marie Bregmann’s Nightmare Play at the Berkeley City Club.

Keep up with PlayGround at

Keep up with Trevor Allen at his excellent site, Working for the Mouse.

New theater company is Hella Fresh

If you want a big, dramatic scene involving John Rosenberg smashing things on his way out the door, you better look elsewhere.

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About three years ago, along with Tore Ingersoll-Thorp and Damian Lanahan Kalish, Rosenberg founded Sleepwalkers Theatre, a group committed to producing new work by new authors. The trio had been in what they considered to be the worst production of Hamlet ever (at an undisclosed location in the East Bay), and after commiserating backstage, joined together to create their own company.

That first season, Sleepwalkers produced one of Rosenberg’s plays, Use Both Hands, about strangers meeting and connecting in the keno lounge of the Circus Circus casino in Reno, Nev. But last year, Rosenberg decided to branch out and do his own thing.

He created his own theater company and decided to call it Hella Fresh Theatre because, well, it’s apparently hella fresh theater.

The parting of ways with old friends Ingersoll-Thorp and Kalish seems to be quite amicable.

“I had an incredible experience with Sleepwalkers,” Rosenberg says. “I loved working with them. As we geared up for the second season, we all realized we wanted to take things in different directions. I wanted to create plays and have control over them. I decided to move in a different direction. It wasn’t like there were screaming fights. I’m in my early 30s. At some point you have to stand up and make your own stuff.”

For their part, the Sleepwalker guys seem OK with the parting. On their Web site they write of Rosenberg’s departure: “John left the group to form another, and more cutting edge theatre will be coming from it soon. If this process were to repeat itself with other members, we couldn’t be happier. We need more exciting small theatre companies, and we think everyone should start one.”

Hella Fresh

Jericho Road Improvement Association, the first production from Hella Fresh Theatre begins performances Thursday, June 4 at San Francisco’s Phoenix Theatre, and it should come as no surprise that the play is written and directed by Rosenberg. (Pictured above: Jericho Road Improvement Association cast members Sam Leichter, left, and Abel Habtegeorgis)

Set in the neighborhood where, in April of 1968, Oakland police clashed with the Black Panthers and ended up killing Little Bobby Hutton, Rosenberg writes about a veteran police officer who was part of that clash 30 years ago attempting to atone for himself and make positive change the neighborhood.

Inspiration for the play came from two places. After attending the University of California, Berkeley “back in the 20th century,” as Rosenberg puts it, he lived in North Oakland near the site of the famous clash.

“That idea, that history has taken place all around you stuck with me,” Rosenberg says.

The second factor came in the form of playwright August Wilson and his famous cycle of plays documenting African American life in each decade of the 20th century.

“Something about his work really touched me,” Rosenberg says. “I’m very interested in race in America, and I became more and more interested in creating a work that reflected a local piece of history, that tackled the problem of race and law enforcement in Oakland and that told a personal story. I think in some ways, since Obama was elected, people thing we’re in a post-racial America, but while I was writing this, BART police killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Eve and four Oakland police officers were murdered a couple months after that.”

Rosenberg’s day job as a bookkeeper for a Berkeley nonprofit gives him some flexibility to write and produce plays in his spare time, which he does entirely on his own, without the aid of grants or corporate sponsors. His mom, who happens to be a drama teacher, serves as an editor, and the people in his life – his girlfriend, his sister, his friends – all offer opinions and, when he needs it, extra funds. This is theater created on a budget – mostly Rosenberg’s.

“It’s definitely an interesting time to be starting a new company,” Rosenberg says. “But it’s definitely possible to do it. It’s exciting and challenging to do it on your own. I’m not trying to make money off of this. It’s just great to put new work out there. As long as I have my job and people who love me, I think we’ll be OK.”


Hella Fresh Theatre presents Jericho Road Improvement Association by John Rosenberg, through June 27 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10. Call 510-292-6403 or visit for information.

Warm and fuzzy: `Working for the Mouse’ evolves

A man of character, Trevor Allen decided to put his character life behind him.

Having detailed what it’s really like to work as a costumed character in Disneyland in his popular solo show Working for the Mouse, Allen made a conscious decision to focus on his burgeoning career as a playwright. Mouse, under the direction of Kent Nicholson, had a great run at Berkeley’s Impact Theatre (and a transfer to the EXIT in San Francisco), but the time had come to hang up the ears and write.

Trevor Allen

He had abundant projects, including one about Albert Einstein with found-object puppeteer Liebe Wetzel, another about artificial intelligence that the Magic Theatre picked up for its New Media Festival and yet another assignment to write something for Playground.

The resulting plays, One Stone, The Nutshell and Tenders in the Fog respectively, were all well received but only Tenders ended up being produced (by San Jose Stage Company). Then came Zoo Logic and Lolita Road Trip, two more projects that generated readings and interest but, so far, no actual productions.

Rather than do the writerly thing and revel in despondency, San Francisco resident Allen headed back to the Magic Kingdom. For just a few jam-packed performances in the summer of 2005, he resurrected Working for the Mouse at Bus Barn Theatre in Los Altos. For those few shows, he traveled back in time to age 17. He was an acting student at UCLA (studying with “The Brady Bunch’s” Robert Reed, no less) and worked at Disneyland, first as Pluto, then as Capt. Hook’s first mate, Mr. Smee, then as various characters including Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh), Friar Tuck (from Robin Hood) and Gideon (the mute cat from Pinocchio). He graduated to “face work,” meaning he wasn’t enclosed in plastic and fur, with the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland and actually got to utilize his improvisational skills when interacting with park guests.

A friend of Allen’s from Los Angeles encouraged him to come do Mouse at a small North Hollywood theater. “It’d sell out!” the friend said.

And Allen wondered, if he took the show to LA, if that is exactly what he’d be doing: selling out.

“I had considered taking the show to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, then I had to think about LA, and then I thought, `Do I really want to be the guy who does funny voices and plays Pluto and the Mad Hatter?'” Allen says over lunch at, yes it’s true, Pluto’s.

That’s when Allen’s wife, Theatre Bay Area magazine editor Karen McKevitt, said it was time to do something serious about Working for the Mouse. She pointed out that when he talked about his four years as a character in Disneyland, he always had fresh stories to tell that never made their way into the show. She landed on a solution: Turn the stories into a book utilizing the factual but entertaining writing style known as creative nonfiction.


Allen is currently hard at work on that book. Until he finds a publisher brave enough to weather the Disney waters, that book-in-progress is also a blog: This is the 21st century, after all.

“As a performer, you get immediate response from an audience,” Allen says. “You know when a story or a line works or doesn’t work. The same is true with the blog. You put it out there yourself – you don’t have to wait for someone to publish you. There’s no barrier between the artist and the audience anymore. I hear immediately from people, some who love Disney, some who hate it.”

The blog belies Allen’s theatrical roots because there’s a whole lot more available than chapters (called “mouse droppings”) of the upcoming book. There’s performance video and, to the author’s great delight, podcasts in which the actor gets to exercise his expertise with voice over narration.

“Now that I’m not writing for performance, I’m able to get into the heads of the other characters more,” he says. “Then turning that into audio is great fun.”

Working for the Mouse is, in many ways, Allen’s coming-of-age story. He was a 17-year-old San Jose native, somewhat naïve, getting a fast education about life in the real world. Backstage and after hours at Disneyland was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but it was also more than that.

“It was a real education,” Allen says. “What I saw there, backstage and during work hours, was tragic, raw, funny and sad. From inside the costumes, you saw a parade of human tragedy going by in the guests. At a certain point after I had left the Disney bubble, it occurred to me, `Why is no one telling this story?'”

One answer is easy: because Disney will sue your pants off. They’ll cease and desist you so quickly you won’t know your Mickey from your Mouse.

“I’ve always thought that in the world of theater, the more controversial the better,” Allen says. “Freedom of speech is supposed to allow for that. But Big business has co-opted the place of religion and government in dictating what you can or can’t say. I’m of the school, as a playwright, a performer or a writer, you have to tell stories that haven’t been told, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

So far, response to the blog has been good. There’s even been some interest in reviving the one-man show, which Allen says he’d be happy to do, especially since working on the Mouse has given him new insights.

“This has been a process of rediscovery,” he says. “The arc of the show would likely remain unchanged, but I think I’m finding some other stories with some different resonance.”

Here’s a taste of Working for the Mouse, the show and the Web site: