Yesterday was my marathon day at BAPF. First off was BASH, or Bay Area Shorts, with four short plays by local folks. Aaron Loeb’s THE POLYGLOT and Marisela Orta’s WOMAN ON FIRE were particularly memorable for me.
Aaron’s play had his trademark funny-and-then-instantly-dramatic twists and turns, as a woman is given the power to speak and understand every language in the world, and then struggles to figure out what to do with it. Kudos to director Molly Aaronson-Gelb for doing three things I really liked: having the actors themselves read the few stage directions, which makes the reading much more active; getting the actors out of chairs and letting them move around the stage a bit, which gives a much better idea of how the play would eventually look; and working in a brilliant sight gag involving a quick costume change. In a staged reading!
As for Marisela‘s play, I realized it was the first thing I’ve actually seen of hers, and it lived up to the hype. It’s a beautiful and poetic play about a woman haunted by the ghost of a woman who died trying to cross the Mexico/U.S. border — a border guarded by her National Guardsman husband. Marisela’s in the process of turning it into a full-length play, and I can see why: there’s a lot of material and backstory there. At the same time, this piece in itself had a full story, so I’m not sure how she accomplished that. I usually either think a short play is complete as is and shouldn’t be messed with; or it’s a failure as a short play and needs to be expanded to reach its potential. This one does both, somehow, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. Brava.
Then came two full-lengths: I AM MONTANA by Samuel D. Hunter and INTO THE NUMBERS by Christopher Chen. Sam’s play suffered a bit from low-key and super-quiet performances which, combined with a hot theater and a post-lunch crowd, made for a tough reading. But an intelligent audience member (such as, I don’t know, me, for example) could tell the script itself is pretty damn cool.
Chris’s play was also really well-written, especially the entire second act. Usually, I find the second act of most in-development plays is the toughest and needs the most work, but Chris nails it, with a mesmerizing way of using one actor playing multiple characters to vividly portray a woman’s march toward a suicide we all know is coming. The ending, in particularly, is haunting, and was wonderfully staged by Mei Ann Teo. Chilling.
I couldn’t stay for Chris’s talkback, though. Eleven hours of theater took its toll….