When San Francisco Playhouse launched its second-stage new works series, the Sandbox, five years ago, these small-scale world premieres were understood to be essentially workshop productions to get new works by new voices (initially all Bay Area playwrights) on their feet in front of an audience.
So when Aaron Loeb's play Ideation had its humble premiere in the Sandbox last November and went on to win the Will Glickman Award for best play to premiere in the Bay Area in 2013, it seemed exciting for the winning play to come from somewhere slightly off the beaten path. (This is the first Glickman win for San Francisco Playhouse, let alone the Sandbox.)
Michael Ray Wisely, Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips and Ben Euphrat in SF Playhouse's world premiere production of Ideation. Photo: Jordan Puckett
In addition to editing this magazine, I'm also one of the five theatre critics tasked with choosing the Glickman winner every year, in my capacity as a reviewer for KQED Arts, the Marin Independent Journal and my theatre blog, theidiolect.com. (The other panelists are Karen D'Souza of the San Jose Mercury News, Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Avila of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Chad Jones of Theater Dogs.) Doing that job properly involves seeing as many new plays as we possibly can in venues large and small, so it's gratifying when checking out one of the less prominent premieres pays off. And hooboy, did it ever.
Certainly playwright Aaron Loeb was a known quantity after his acclaimed First Person Shooter and Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party, both of which premiered on the Playhouse's main stage. But Ideation proved to be so taut, so suspenseful, so funny and so damn polished in director Josh Costello's staging that this may have been a relatively low-budget premiere, but it sure didn't seem like a workshop. And now the play's coming back to open SF Playhouse's main stage season in September, going where no Sandbox show has gone before.
So what's so great about Ideation? It's part black comedy, part suspense thriller, in which an ace team of management consultants has to come up with a strategy for a project that is, to quote my own KQED Arts review, "at best highly morally questionable and possibly monstrous." At first they're seemingly heedless of the ethical implications, even cracking grim jokes about it, but as they get down to the nuts and bolts of who would need to know what about this project, they gradually realize that there may be a lot about it that they haven't been told. And perhaps the best thing is that as they creep further and further into paranoia, they continue to use the same painstaking problem-solving methods to work through it as they do when they're just doing their jobs.
It's a masterfully woven web of intrigue and overactive imaginations, and is well worth repeat viewing and reading. That's why I'm thrilled to publish the full text of Ideation in this issue of Theatre Bay Area magazine.
And, as it happens, that's not all we have for you in this issue. I interview Loeb about the play in the pages immediately preceding the script. David Templeton talks to various theatre artists about particular superstitions that haunt the theatre community, and listings editor Lily Janiak takes a look at some of the live/work performance spaces lurking under the radar around the Bay (often because they're not strictly allowed to be there). Janiak also interviews director Dawn Monique Williams in our latest "Keep an Eye On" profile, and Templeton contributes an "Encore" Q&A with Marin Shakespeare Company managing director Lesley Currier on the company's 25th anniversary. Also celebrating an anniversary this year (its 10th) is San Francisco's Mugwumpin, and Nirmala Nataraj profiles the ensemble in "Company Spotlight."
Check back in with us next issue for our annual Fall Preview, this time taking a particular look at festivals. And in the meantime, enjoy your summer read of Ideation!
Sam Hurwitt is editor-in-chief for Theatre Bay Area. He is also the author of The Idiolect, a blog about theatre, movies, comics, media and the decline and fall of Western civilization.