Short sweet frolic on the PlayGround

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Michael Phillis (in the refrigerator) and Holli Hornlien in Arisa White’s Frigidaire, one of seven 10-minute plays in Best of Playground 15 at the Thick House. Below: Phillis and Rinabeth Apostol in Daniel Heath’s This Is My Body. Photos by mellopix performance

In the spirit of PlayGround’s annual 10-minute play festival, I’m going to attempt to write a 10-minute review.

The time is 10:40am. Start the clock.

The joy of a short play festival is the utter diversity in style, tone and voice. You can have what amounts to a sketch comedy bumping up against muscular drama, an intriguing fragment or a surprising burst of poetry. All of that happens and more in Best of Playground 15: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays at the Thick House. The seven plays presented represent the cream of the PlayGround playwriting process, which runs from October through March. A pool of 36 writers is given a topic and then asked to write a 10-minute play on a chosen theme. The best of those plays are given staged readings, and then the best of that bunch makes it to this festival.

Of the seven shows now on display, I can tell you my three clear favorites.

1. Arisa White’s Frigidaire surprises and delights with its twist on the coming out story. A domineering mother (Holli Hornlien) desperately wants her son (Michael Phillis) to be gay. She even goes so far as to force him into the arms of a priest known for his predilection for young boys. But the young man isn’t having it. His mother’s forceful ways – she says it’s her way of building his character – have sent him ’round the bend. He comes home from the latest forced encounter and barricades himself in the fridge. Director Jon Tracy‘s production is funny and powerful.

2. Eveyln Jean Pine’s See. On. Unseen. The. Lost. Takes a familiar scenario – two homeless buddies drinking and arguing – and makes it lyrical and poignant. Nicky (Jomar Tagatac), the younger guy, is a heavy drinker, but all the alcohol can’t quite obscure his hope for a better, more meaningful life. Sammy (David Cramer) has been on the streets too long. His hope doesn’t extend much beyond looking at the rain from the inside of a warm room for a change. Nicky’s latest burst of enthusiasm concerns a quote – he thinks it’s by Jack Kerouac, but it’s really by Eugene O’Neill – and if he cuts up the words of the quote and draws them randomly from a bag, the words create poetry and visions of the future. As directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, Pine’s piece is gritty and beautiful.


3. Daniel Heath’s This Is My Body also takes a familiar scenario – two teenagers break into a church for purposes of mischief and, if all goes well, making out. For Cole (Phillis), the escapade doesn’t really amount to much more than swiping some wine and coaxing his partner in crime up to a cozy nook. But for Sophie (Rinabeth Apostol), the church and its rituals actually mean something. Susie Damilano’s direction and the actors’ shapr performances create palpable tension – and heat.

OK. Stop the clock. It’s 10:50. I’m breaking the rules and extending my time long enough to mention that the festival also includes Katie May’s cute Rapunzel’s Etymology of Zero: A Feminist Fairy Tale; Jonathan Luskin’s Ecce Homo, a tribute to the durability of vaudevillians; Mandy Hodge Rizvi’s ambitious Escapades: A ballet with dialogue, or a dance through time and memory; and Brady Lea’s musical Calling the Kettle, with music by Christopher Winslow.

It’s all thoroughly enjoyable and nicely produced. Time spent on this PlayGround is always time spent with intriguing new writers from whom we’ll be hearing more in the future.


Best of Playground 15: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays continues through May 29 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$40. Call 415-992-6677 or visit

You should also check out PlayGround’s staged readings of new plays at the Thick House. Still to come are Stiff Competition by Cass Brayton (2pm, May 15); A Marriage by Tom Swift (7pm, May 16); Book Club! The Musical by Geetha Reddy (2pm, May 22); Cristina Walters by Malachy Walsh (7pm, May 23); and Valley of Sand by Trevor Allen (2pm, May 29).


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