Playwrights’ Center* of San Francisco Presents “Sheherezade’s Last Tales!”

by Charles Kruger

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Let’s have some love for the short play!

The traditional two or three act play is what most theatregoers have known for the past century or more. There is an introductory first act that sets up the situation, an intermission where the theatre can sell drinks at the bar, a second act that delivers complications, more drinks at the bar, and a final act in which all is resolved before midnight. Many of the greatest plays in theatrical history have fit comfortably into this format.

But one-act plays, like short stories, also have a long tradition, dating back to the very beginnings of theatre in ancient Greece. Bet you didn’t know that!

One-acts really came into their own in the 20th century, however. Masters of the form include some of our greatest playwrights, such as Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and Caryl Churchill.

And if short is good, might not shorter be even better? At least sometimes? With the turn of the millennium, fiction writers have not been limited to novels and short stories; recent decades have seen the advent of “short shorts” — polished short stories so tightly compressed they can be told in hundreds of words or less, rather than thousands.

And in the theatre, we have seen the celebration of the “Ten Minute Play.” Since the mid 1980s, Ten Minute (or short play) festivals and contests have popped up everywhere, from the renowned Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky, to the New York Collective of the Arts, to the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco.

Which brings us to “Sheherezade’s Last Tales.” For the past 15 years, the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco has presented its own annual showcase of fully produced world premiere short plays that bring together the talents of local writers, actors, directors and designers. For those in-the-know, the Sheherezade festival has been a yearly highlight of San Francisco’s theatrical season, an event for the true connoisseur. If a touring national company resembles a conventional full course dinner, and a locally produced three act play is the theatrical equivalent of a sophisticated restaurant, then “Sheherezade’s Last Tales” might be considered a fine serving of tapas  — theatrical food for the truly discerning palate.

This year’s edition of Sheherezade is described as “Last Tales” because it is the last Sheherezade Festival to be presented in its current format. Plans are afoot to create a new format that will be announced later in 2016.

This year’s festival, opening this weekend, is helmed by Playwrights’ Center President Bridgette Dutta Portman and her colleague, Jerome Joseph Gentes, acting as co-producers. The eight short plays which make up the festival will be directed by Laylah Muran de Assereto and Adam L. Sussman. The experienced and professional ensemble cast includes Alexaendrai Bond, AJ Davenport, Amber Glasgow, Rick Homan, Brian Levi, Miyoko Sakatani, and Louel Senores.

Here are the featured playwrights:

Oakland Playwright Madeleine Butler is presenting at the Festival for the second year in a row. She is a jazz singer and improvisational actress, and has been a member of the Playwright’s Center and the Playground Writers’ Pool for two seasons. Not just a playwright, she is also at work on a novel, a memoir, essays, short fiction, and poems.

Steven Hill is well known and widely published as a political writer in many leading newspapers and journals. His articles and op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle and many other leading publicationsAn admirer of the of the renaissance ideal, he also paints, composes music, writes fiction and poetry, and, of course, plays.

Vaughn Hovanessian is a San Francisco native who spends his retirement auditing classes at UC Berkeley and watching the horses at Golden Gate Fields. He is also a member of the Playwright’s Center and the author of “Rorschach Test,” a short play in which a couple attends a marriage counseling session with a twist.

Bill Hyatt, is a director and actor as well as a playwright. Several of his plays have been produced. As a director, he has presented many world and West Coast premieres, and was one of the directors participating in the historic “Lysistrata Project,” an international theatrical event of 2003, protesting the U.S. military entry into Iraq.

Carol S. Lashof has had plays produced on five continents — from the celebrated Magic Theatre in San Francisco to Peking University in Bejing — and broadcast on BET and NPR as well. She is a cofounder and resident playwright for Those Women Productions, which is “devoted to exploring classic stories from new angles.”

Rod McFadden, serves as Chair on the Board of Directors for the Playwrights’ Center, and has received awards from national playwriting competitions. His second full-length play, “Hope’s Last Chance,” received its world premiere in San Francisco as part of Wily West‘s 2013 season.

Lorraine Midanik comes to the theatre after retirement from a distinguished academic career, which culminated in her appointment as Dean in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley. A passionate theatre devotee, she has been a member of PCSF since 2013 and has had several of her short plays produced locally. She is a member of Theatre Bay Area and the Dramatists Guild, and serves on the board of Stagebridge.

Patricia L. Morin is an award winning crime and mystery writer, whose short stories in that genre have been widely published and admired. She is the author of several plays, most notably her two hander, “The Gatekeeper,” which won multiple awards in the 2012 Fringe of Marin Playwrighting Competition.

“Sheherezade’s Last Tales!” will play at The Exit Theatre December 3rd through December 12th. For further information, click here.

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