After seeing a staged reading of Mr. Fujiyama's Electric Beach on Saturday, I still have no idea who Mr. Fujiyama is, or how he created his electric beach. In fact, there was absolutely no mention of Mr. Fujiyama, a beach, or even electricity for that matter. But I can't wait to find out the answers -- or if there will be any answers -- when the play premieres next February, with a full production by Cutting Ball Theater. The work-in-progress reading that is part of the 30th annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival was enough to get me fired up about the possibilities of Kevin Oakes' latest work.
The play opens with an extended monologue by the anonymous main character that instantly establishes the disoriented future noir setting for the play. The main character, ably played by Jason Wong, is soon set on his quest to discover his past while navigating the mysterious agency he works for, its ties to a questionable scientific institute, and meeting the assorted types any good noir detective should meet on his quest. Wong, who was a revelation as the anguished and painfully vulnerable lead in Crowded Fire's production of Porcelain last year, envelops his character in the cool mystery of a hardboiled protagonist from a Haruki Murakami story. Meanwhile, the backdrop of sentient animals living alongside humans can't help but evoke Jonathan Lethem's jittery Gun with Occasional Music. In fact, the play feels descended from a number of noble antecedents including Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick.
The only reference that receives a name in the work is Orson Welles, who plays a very special role here, one which I am eager to see realized in the full production. And despite the fact that the plot fits into the mold of Bladerunner-like future noir, the play remains highly original and looks like it will make full use of the live production format when fully staged. The reading featured only the first half of the play, and the audience let out an audible sigh after the lights came up, releasing the tension that had built up throughout. The cast, who realized their characters remarkably well for an on-book reading, then came out to sit through the talkback with the audience.
The Playwrights Foundation is presenting its 30th anniversary Bay Area Playwright's Festival, a collection of readings of new works by some of the most promising and innovative playwrights in the country. Readings of works in progress allow the playwright to gauge the audience experience and interpretation, polish language and stage cues, and visualize what so far has been primarily an ink and paper production. Readings also give production companies a chance to see what's out there in the way of new material that they may want to take on the following year.
Out of the readings this year, Mr. Fujiyama's Electric Beach is a special case -- it is part of the Playwright Foundation's Producing Partnerships Initiative, which helps incubate a new work from start to finish, in this case working with the Cutting Ball Theater production company which co-commissioned the work. Kevin Oakes has eschewed the more isolationist model of writing to forge a close relationship with director Rob Melrose, dramaturge Amy Mueller and the cast and artistic team in developing Mr. Fujiyama's Electric Beach.
Amy Mueller is not only dramaturge for this production, but is also directing another work in the festival and Artistic Director for the Playwrights Foundation. In the latter capacity, she has spent the last seven years steering the Foundation to ramp up the opportunities and resources made available in the Bay Area for emerging playwrights. Over the past 30 years, alumni of the festival have won worldwide acclaim and every prestigious award in theater. This year's festival features ten works, six full-length and four shorts selected from a nationwide selection process of over 400 works. Each of the plays presented this weekend will be available to sample next weekend as well.
For a full program, visit the Playwrights Foundation. And look for the world premiere of Mr. Fujiyama's Electric Beach in February 2008 with Cutting Ball Theater.