My husband and I have been in belt-tightening mode. Apparently we were spending more money than we were bringing in, and that’s kind of the definition of fiscal irresponsibility. So I didn’t renew my many theater subscriptions. But this does not mean that I’ve given up going to plays–it just means that I have to be more creative and more selective. Luckily, the Bay Area has such a range of theater possibilities that being a drama lover doesn’t have to break the bank.
Of course, being part of the company means that I can either get discounts or occasional comp tickets to PlayGround shows. And volunteering to help with concessions allows me to sit in on staged readings for free. Now for my confession: I often enjoy readings as much or more than fully staged productions…
A reading that recently blew me away was William Bivins’s Scapegoat, which was part of PlayGround’s Festival of New Works. To be clear, this was not the kind of reading where the actors sit until it’s their turn to speak and then they approach a music stand and read from the script in a row, facing the audience. This was thoughtfully blocked and made use of a few costume pieces to distinguish multiple roles that actors played. Rather than synopsize it myself, I’ve shamelessly cut and pasted someone else’s description of the story from PlayGround’s website:
Clive is a struggling comic book artist whose series, Scapegoat, once celebrated as a cunning metaphor for the African American experience, is now running thin. When his friend is shot by police, Clive finds renewed purpose for Scapegoat. But as sales soar, violence erupts, and Clive begins to question the role of art in the pursuit of justice.
Scapegoat has humor and heart–the two qualities I require before giving a piece my highest rating–and it also shows great imagination. In addition, the reading featured creative staging by the director that supported the story and excellent acting. It also had an ending that was satisfying. (That’s one of my pet peeves–plays that just stop without providing a real ending.) Plus, it had a bonus: because the main character creates graphic novels, a real artist provided large sketches to stand in as Clive’s artwork. And these were not some quickly drawn caricatures; they were clearly the result of time and talent.
I gave it a standing ovation, which I guess isn’t that common at a reading because I think I was the only one who jumped to my feet during their bows. But I didn’t care. It was wonderful to be able to thank the playwright afterward and let him know how much the play meant to me. How often does one get to do that?
Thought-provoking, the characters stuck with me on my drive home across the bridge. Scapegoat was more than entertaining–it brought up important topics and didn’t pretend that solutions are clear or easy. It explored different perspectives and allowed the audience to see the contrast between life’s complicated situations and the comic-book heroes and villains that the protagonist spent his life depicting.
I sincerely hope this play gets a full production in the Bay Area. Watch for it, and if you see that’s it’s playing, go!