A Play in a Day 

PlayFest is mighty spontaneous -- and it has to be.

Forty minutes before the house opens, I sneak into the auditorium of the Julia Morgan, trying not to distract the man up on a beam adjusting a light or the actors onstage -- a weary-looking man and a pigtailed woman in goggles and wings. The cherry picker is still up on the stage where it looks like someone stopped in the middle of hanging a backdrop, and in front of the stage two people are laying down sheets of plywood. In the lobby, a few members of Woman's Will, bedraggled from the heat, are setting up the concessions stand.

In other words, it's not much different from any last-minute rehearsal -- except that this is the only day of rehearsal the group has had, and the crew is bedraggled because 24 hours ago, this show hadn't even been written. Tonight is the sixth annual Woman's Will PlayFest, where seven female playwrights get a topic on Sunday, stay up all night writing, and then give the results to seven female directors. The directors meet their casts at 10 a.m. Monday, and the show goes up ten hours later. It's a lot like PlayGround at the Berkeley Rep, but compressed into an even shorter time span. And as I'm about to find out, it yields some very funny results, from Erin Blackwell's noirish sea-lion-phobic heroine in "Rare Accidents" to the wisecracking convenience-store clerk menacing her co-worker with a rolled-up magazine in "Kokomo."

There's no time for discussion of themes, intentions, backstory; this year, one of the actors was distracted because while he was inside rehearsing, his car slid out of park and rolled across the street into another car. PlayFest is also unusual in that it's the only time actual men play men in a Woman's Will production, although in this iteration it's still the women who wield the swords. The one man offered a sword (in Kristi Goodnight's "Striving for Cindy") is too afraid to take it, choosing instead to save the day by performing a breakdance interpretation of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

Like the monthly PlayGround, PlayFest is not the place for polished performances. Writers, cast, and crew try to balance working fast with making the best choices, which means that the stories aren't tight, lines get fumbled, and sometimes the light cue just ain't there. But there's an undeniable energy, spirit, and charm to the product that better-prepared shows sometimes lack. It's a couple hours of "Look, Ma, no hands." And unlike at PlayGround, all the actors in the Woman's Will show were reciting their lines from memory -- no mean feat, considering they'd seen their scripts for the first time that morning. But as actor Lizzie Calogero noted after the show as her three-year-old daughter ran giddily around the stage, "It's great, but I'm glad I don't have to do this every month."


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