Comedy Tonight 

Playhouse West's New Playwrights Festival brings a new generation to the Walnut Creek stage.

Who says inner-city stages have a monopoly on innovation and edginess? Not Playhouse West. The two debut works in the Walnut Creek theater company's "New Playwrights Festival" may be comedies, but there's very little cornball about them.

Both plays, presented in staged readings at Playhouse West (1345 Locust St., Walnut Creek, 925-942-0300), are products of Bay Area playwrights. The Agony of the Leaves, by SF's Janet Silver Ghent and Palo Alto's Matthew Surrence, looks in on two fortysomething divorced men, cousins, as they re-enter dating life and meet women. A Package for Max by John Angell Grant (also from Palo Alto) deals with relationships as well, with two married couples, longtime friends, who spend an evening soul-searching. Grant's work has been produced before. "We used his Time Out in our festival of shorts last year," says Playhouse West artistic director Lois Grandi.

Grandi's goal is to explore the Bay Area's writing talent by providing a space for new playwrights to develop. "My teacher in New York, Wynn Handman of the American Place Theatre, used to do new playwrights a lot, and that inspired me," she says. "It's a definite move to the next generation of playwrights. And now we've finally got enough room in our schedule to do it.

"I receive new plays all the time," maintains Grandi. "We've been reading through them, and now we're down to a stack of plays. If this satisfies our subscribers, we'll keep doing new works."

Along with new stage plays, audiences at Playhouse West will be treated to a few brand-new actors. "I'm planning on using several of our advanced students in these two plays," Grandi says. "And both plays will be fully blocked, although we don't have enough time to be off-book."

The Agony of the Leaves runs Thursday, August 1; Saturday, August 3; and Friday, August 9. A Package for Max will be performed Friday, August 2; Thursday, August 8; and Saturday, August 10, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on August 4. All other performances are at 8 p.m.

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