Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Relevant PLAYGROUND FESTIVAL OF NEW WORKS places spotlight on Black Americans

The PLAYGROUND FESTIVAL OF NEW WORKS is a leading showcase of new plays and new playwrights. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival marks its 25th anniversary, by presenting its offerings on-line.  The resulting fest is a 25-event covering 5-weeks, all live-streamed via Zoom, and largely free of charge.

On June 5 and 6, 2020, the offering was Genevieve Jesse’s THE RENDERING CYCLE, directed by Margo Hall.  The original development was by Lauren Spencer.  

Genevieve Jesse is based jointly in the Bay Area and Puerto Rico.  She was a semi-finalist for the 2019 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and is the recipient of a California Arts Council Artists-in-Communities grant for THE RENDERING CYCLE.

The 2-hour, without intermission production, was a series of ten short plays.
Appropriately, in light of the Black Live’s Matters protests that have turned this nation’s streets into a hotbed of unrest, the spotlight was on the African American community’s tradition of trauma and joy across continents and characters, ranging from present-day United States to West Africa of a millennium ago.

The offerings, with such titles as, DOMINION, which took place in 1997, ABIDE (1708), TWO THING BLUES (1910), MAGIC (1845), MOTHER OF INVENTION (1987), PERSIST (1952) and SOWN (1048), were somewhat interlinked tales, in a non-chronological order.

The stories introduced such topics as the slave trade, voter registration, generational differences, “holding strong to faith,” “Black bodies who belong to them,” “coon” theater, the intentional breaking up of the black family unit during slave times, the role of the black woman, and the encouragement for members of the African American community to “do something.”

The production used a creative stage device for keeping the actors a safe distance from each other.  For each scene, there was a panel on the screen with a photo of the setting and, as each actor entered into the environment, a panel showed that actor.  The device worked well, and the lack of real interaction between the performers became irrelevant.

Nicely textured performances by Cathleen Riddley and Champagne Hughes helped flesh out the multiple characters portrayed by each.  They were competently supported by Armando McClain and Caitlin Evenson.

For more information about the 24th Annual PlayGround Festival of New Works go to https://playground-sf.org/zoomfest-playbill/