First, let me tell you about a show I saw last week, then let me say a few words about where I saw it.
“Trailer Park Gods” is an original play by Nayia Kuvetakis, a recent UC Berkeley graduate. So, actually, are most of the members of Faultline Theater, a San Francisco-based company made up of recent Berkeley theater majors, all fueled by a passion for creating fresh new plays, by emerging playwrights, telling effective stories that speak to a new generation of theatergoers. Trailer Park Gods is a strong example of just that: good, effective storytelling from a fresh voice.
Taking the ancient myth of Demeter and Persephone, Kuvetakis has left the names and the bare bones of the myth, but has refashioned it into a modern tale of desperate people yearning to feel powerful and loved in a landscape where powerlessness and abandonment are the norm. In this version, Demeter, played with fire and focus by Sarah Nowicki, is not the goddess of nature of the original myth, but a near-destitute mother with a green thumb whose grown bitter after losing her central valley farm in the recession. She blames a lot of people for her troubles, including her ex-husband Zeus, but mostly she blames her brother-in-law Hades, Paul Rodrigues, who years earlier abandoned the farm, taking her life-savings with him. After being thrown in jail, Hades essentially dropped from the Earth, leaving Demeter to raise her smart, studious daughter Persephone alone in a trailer park, surrounded by various hardscrabble folks all dreaming of a better life while doing little to make it happen.
After Hades returns to town, he avoids Demeter’s wrath while re-establishing a bond with the teenage Persephone, played indelibly by Amanda Farbstein. After years spent taking care of her mother, working an afterschool job to make payments on their trailer, Persephone finds herself powerfully drawn to Hades, a man she’s been raised to hate for the last several years of her life.
The cast is first-rate, with some riveting, real performances, and the script, while perhaps a tad loose and work-shoppy, is packed with strong ideas, crisp dialogue, and clever observations about the myths we tell ourselves and each other to get by. Director Emma Nichols keeps the pace clipping, and keeps the actors on fire, though sometimes the sudden tone-shifts in how each character speaks and relates to each other seem a little out-of-key and ever-so-slightly confusing.
Small matter, that.
Trailer Park Gods, flaws and all, is still one exciting piece of theater, an absorbing story of real people who’ve lost control of their own lives, and must summon what power they have left, be it the power of anger, hope, love, hate – or simple perseverance.
Now let’s talk about the theater space itself.
Lets face it. Part of the experience of going to the theater is in actually going to the THEATER, the physical brick-and-mortar edifice which contains the stage on which the theatrical performance of the moment is being staged. There is an element of theater in the very act of walking into such a place, and that includes what happens inside the lobby before and after the show.
PianoFight, in San Francisco’s tenderloin area, is a brilliant fusion of social club, bar and restaurant, and theater. There’s food and drink and a spacious area to socialize with friends before and after the show, and with two theaters, there is always a new show about to start at PianoFight, which gives local theater artists a place to hone their craft for an audience eager to see something new, and then have a beer and talk about it with friends.
Is there a place in Sonoma County for a venue like Pianofight? I think there is. The question now is, who’s going to make that happen?
Trailer Park Gods runs through May 16 at Pianofight. www.pianofight.com.
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.