The Playgoer: San Francisco Dispatch

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

San Francisco Dispatch

Here in San Francisco, I was taken by my friends at Staged Readings to a new smallish company called the SF Playhouse, housed in a converted loft space just off the main thoroughfare of the touristy Union Square area. From the moment you walk into the lobby after climbing one short flight of stairs, you're greeted by an open atmosphere, a casual salon-gallery setting, where the audience is happy to chat and drink before filing into the comfy 99-seat auditorium. That people are allowed and encouraged to bring their wine or coffee with them, only spread the good feeling further. (A tactic other theatres have noticed in reaching out to new audiences.) It was a welcoming setting for the reception of a new play.

The current offering is Mystery Plays by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, an increasingly visible young playwright, being showcased later this season by Manhattan Theatre Club, among other places. Having followed some of his early works in workshops I'd seen, I've been intrigued in what he brings to the contemporary stage from the underrepresented sci-fi/comic-book aesthetic. Unfortunately, Mystery Plays is not his best work--overwritten, over-narrated, and not trusting the simplicity of its own promising Twilight Zone premises. (The work was apparently done previously in NY by Second Stage.) But still, even as my interest in the proceedings waned, I looked around and noticed a 75% capacity house, a mixed-generation audience engaged with the play, decent actors working in an attractive space (no postage-stamp stage here, and fitted with up to date tech) I was encouraged. Even just steps away from the lure of Victoria's Secret and Nieman Marcus, was some serious contemporary theatre reaching an audience. Given a fresh environment in a welcoming venue, it can thrive anywhere....Perhaps, in NYC the real estate alone would price anyone out. But I wonder if such a comfy space will emerge soon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Astoria, Queens?

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