Review: “Best of Playground 20: Festival of New Works”

playground postcard

by Barry David Horwitz

From River God to Lunatic Space Shot

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

For 20 years, the Playground Festival has been bringing us new plays, new writers, and new theater artists. For the 20th time, the Playground Festival is offering the year’s best new works. Artistic Director James A. Kleinmann has brought us the “Best of Playground 20,”  six one-act plays that break boundaries and establish new frontiers. You will enjoy these shows because each play is unique, stylish, and timely.

You will hear from these writers, directors, and actors in the future. The six plays in this winning collection address vital current issues — from cruel fathers and environmental disaster in “The River God” to a Hollywood, Mad Men style faked moon landing in “The Lunatics.”

Along the way, we encounter gay love and homophobia in the Stonewall era “Boys Beware,” and a modern Ophelia who triumphs over her Hamlet in “Ophy’s Apothecary.”

With simple, clean staging, the power of place and of myth takes over, powerfully, each time.

Then, these precise actors introduce us to a pushy but polite cell phone who has secrets to tell in “I’m Really Sorry about This.” In “Digging Ditches in Fresno,” we get to experience matters of life and death and labor unions in an encounter between two nurses.

Standout performances include Nican Robinson as a handsome, heroic, and energetic River God, and as Jimmy, about to come out as gay in New York. Also, Michael Phillis’s charming and seductive gay liberator and his crazed advertising man preparing a fake moon landing shine as smartly honed performances.

These plays have comments to make on the world we live in, convincingly set in specific times and places. In spite of minimal sets and lighting, we believe we are in 60s New York or at a contemporary Hollywood studio. The plays make us feel like we are present at the writing of history.

These six writers and directors, along with a fine troupe of actors, provide trips to six worlds we never knew existed, in one night. It’s fast-paced and exciting theater, well worth the trip to lovely Potrero Hill, with its cool breezes and fine restaurants.

These plays and players represent the future for new San Francisco plays and artists. Bravo!

“Best of Playground 20: Festival of New Works” continues at Thick House through July 19th. For further information, click here


Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)


“Best of Playground 20: Festival of New Works” by Madeleine Butler, Patricia Cotter, Karen Macklin, Isaac Ontiveros, Kirk Shimano, and Joshua Williams. Directors: Jeffrey Lo, Katja Rivera, Reena Dutt, Tracy Ward, and Jim Kleinmann. Lighting Designer: Kate Boyd. Sound Designer: Josh Senick. Costume Designer: Jocelyn Leiser Herndon. 


Rinabeth Apostol, Nican Robinson, Douglas Giorgis, Dodds Delzell, Morgan J. Booker. Michael Phillis, Stephanie Prentice.















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