California – North 2018/19 Season In Review by Patricia Milton
The San Francisco Bay Area is a lavish breeding ground for new work, and Dramatists Guild members’ plays are well-represented at theatres throughout Northern California and beyond.
Summer 2018 saw the debuts of several new plays. The Play About a Dick, by Equity-actor-turned playwright Aaron Wilton, received its US premiere in July 2018 at Good Luck MacBeth Theatre in Reno. Meanwhile, Custom Made Theatre presented the world premiere of Jonathan Spector’s play about a one-night journey down the Las Vegas strip, Good. Better. Bested. Custom Made is a 20-year-old company that features new work, classic and contemporary plays, musicals, and fosters a new play development program in its 99-seat house near Union Square in San Francisco. William Bivins’ drama, Scapegoat, premiered as a co-production between noted new play developer PlayGround and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, which specializes in plays about the Black American experience.
The holidays delivered two world premiere plays: one Christmas-themed, one decidedly not. Lauren Gunderson, one of the country’s most-produced playwrights and a past Lanford Wilson Award recipient, debuted The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley at Marin Theatre Company (MTC) in Mill Valley, CA. This family-oriented piece is a Jane Austen-inspired play Gunderson co-wrote with Margot Melcon. MTC supports new plays through commissions, prizes, and new play reading events. Meanwhile, Z Space in San Francisco hosted Lee Brady’s Southern Lights, a country-and-western musical produced by 3Girls Theatre. 3Girls is a company devoted exclusively to developing and producing new plays and musicals by women.
The first months of 2019 introduced more world premiere productions, as well as a pair of regional premieres. Cleavon Smith’s two-hander, The Last Sermon of Sister Imani, could be seen at TheatreFirst at Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley, CA. TheatreFirst presents only new works, and describes itself as being “guided by the principle of aggressive diversity, a dedication to telling the world’s stories through multiple simultaneous viewpoints.” Min Kahng’s piece for young audiences, Gold: The Midas Musical, received its world premiere at family favorite Bay Area Children’s Theatre in Berkeley, CA.
The city of San Francisco was treated to two regional premieres by former DGF Fellow Lauren Yee: The Great Leap, at American Conservatory Theater, and King of the Yees at San Francisco Playhouse. In addition, Dipika Guha’s (also a former DGF Fellow) comedy, Yoga Play, appeared at San Francisco Playhouse, a passionate supporter of new plays through its Sandbox New Play Program. While this retrospective does not claim to encompass the entire list of new plays last year in Northern California, it offers a rich and wide-ranging sample.