Arts & Events

New: Playground gives homage to their new home with “The Potrero Nuevo Project”

John McMullen, ATCA
Wednesday February 15, 2017 - 10:53:00 PM

Playground has been an East Bay force for rising dramatists for several years. It is known for its Monday Night monthly presentations of 10 minutes plays at Berkeley Rep of a most interesting format (they send a word to the playwrights a few days to a week before and the play has to be on the topic of that word!).

They have thrived under the leadership of Jim Kleinmann, a Yale Drama MFA, who ran the Berkeley Symphony for several years (and kept them in the black). With his organizing and fundraising skills combined with a sharp aesthetic and leadership, Playground has flourished.

Playground has been presenting the best of their plays once a year over in San Francisco in the Potrero in what was the “Thick House” Theatre; however, that theatre company, like so many others, has gone under and disbanded. Playground refurbished the theatre, and is presenting there.  

As an inaugural presentation, THE PORTRERO NUEVO PROJECT, they present eight short plays in 90 minutes about the Potrero section of The City and its history—and present and even the future. The short plays covered an array of illuminating history: Kit Carson shooting Mexicans like buffalo to steal their land; tent cities now and after the 1906 earthquake and fire; the Union and the Bethlehem Shipyards and how a young working class boy from Boston could make a life back in the ‘40s; Fritz Maytag brewing Anchor Steam, the first of the craft beers when all others were homogenized “maiden’s milk” as the Brits call Bud Light; a drive-by shooting and the razing of the projects and mother’s grief to distraction; mixed ethnic inhabitants bribed into pretending to be Ohlones at the behest of an evil priest back in the Mission days; an ancient, ailing Chinese grandfather cared for by a brother and sister who have ery different perspectives of success; the financial temptation to sell the family home for an eye-opening offer to the futuristic transportation company (BART 2050?) set in world of life-like holograms 

I’ve gone to see it for many years running, and usually 7 or 8 out of 8 of the plays were home-runs.
Admittedly, those success were from a raft of different topics, and were the best of the best. 

This year, perhaps because of the limitation of the topic about a place that I always saw as one of the least colorful sections of San Francisco, two--maybe three--were first-class and the others were okay. 

Notable in the performances were Soren Oliver who is well-known to Bay Area audiences and the scion of a great theatrical family, Jessica Bates who knocks it out of the park with her panoply of pitch-perfect dialects that enabled her to play a whole range of men and women, Cathleen Ridley whose woe was heart-breaking and a harkening to the Greek tragedies, and a lanky young man named JD Scalzo who can also slip into a diversity of characters. 

It’s a nice neighborhood with easy parking, and present an enlightening and intriguing reverie about an important part of our local culture—and the clashes and community that happened there. Cross the bridge for a relaxing 90 minutes and (since the play let’s out early) a post-theatre dinner at one of the local eateries. It is much more relaxing than an excursion to ACT. You have to drive, and probably best to GPS the address. I hadn’t traversed the bay in a while, and it was a most enjoyable evening without the stress of “going to theatre!” 

PLUS… Playground is an institution that local theatre-goers should support because it is the breeding-ground for some extraordinary playwrights who bring us new works that relieve us from another reprise or “Cat on a” or “Death of a” or all those chestnuts from half-century ago. 

(BTW, Playwrighting Classes begin early March at the PlayGround PlaySpace, 3286 Adeline St #4, Berkeley. And if you have never been to the 3rd Monday Night Playground at the Rep, it’s a hoot. The nice thing about 10-minute plays is that if you don’t like this one, just wait a few minutes.) 


A Theatrical Imagining of Potrero Hill's Past, Present & Future 

Featuring works by: Patricia Cotter, Victoria Chong Der, Ruben Grijalva, Garret Jon Groenveld, Genevieve Jessee, Martha Soukup, Maury Zeff, and Ignacio Zulueta. 


Thu, Fri, Sat at 8 and Sun at 7 pm 

Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street (off Arkansas Street), San Francisco 

Tickets: $25-$55 

INFO at