Theater Preview: Wagner New Play Festival runs to May 19 on UC San Diego campus in La Jolla


Spring is an exciting time of year at UC San Diego because of the Arthur & Molli Wagner New Play Festival. All the graduate students in the Theater & Dance department, plus some undergrads, get together to produce these new shows, which are set to stage May 10-19, 2018 in various theaters on campus. The series will be viewed by industry leaders from across the nation, who come to campus for three days to see the productions.

“There is no other graduate program like this in the country,” said 2017 MFA playwright Will Snider, whose play from last years’ festival went on to win a Barrymore Award for outstanding new play, “and that’s because of the new play festival.”

Tickets will get you a view of the latest concepts in theater from the next generation of playwrights, and, hopefully, you will be surprised. However, one doesn’t really know what to expect and nothing is guaranteed, but that is half the fun.

This year there are four new plays and three one-acts on the bill.

One not to miss is “53% Of.” It was penned by second-year MFA playwright Steph Del Russo, and banks on its characters’ witty, terse, fast-paced dialogue.

“53% Of,” which recently won a second place in the Paula Vogel Playwriting Competition, sponsored by the Kennedy Center in New York, follows the ladies of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania who are planning for a visit from the president. The action shifts to their beer-drinking husbands, and then on to a group of 20-year-olds in Brooklyn, New York, who are planning a fundraiser.

“It’s about complicity and the violence of the status quo, and what happens when we stop equating womanhood with goodness, and ignorance with innocence,” Del Russo explained.

Another good choice is “How to Defend Yourself,” by Lily Padilla. In this play, seven college students gather for a self-defense workshop after a fellow student is raped. Padilla says her play: “Explores what you want, how to ask for it, and the insidious ways rape culture steals one’s body and sense of belonging.”

Padilla can be very funny and is psychologically astute, like maybe she has experience with group therapy. Her characters have wacky psychological stuff going on that will keep you in stitches — despite the serious topic.

Sere,” written by Ava Geyer, is a story about the Navy Seal Teams. The title stands for “Survival-Evasion-Resistance-Escape,” and explores what it means to be soldier and what it means to love.

Mothers,” by Anna Moench, is about three moms, a stay-at-home dad, and a nanny at a mommie/kid meetup. War comes unexpectedly and they are forced to try and survive, raising their children in a disintegrating world. Look for Mo Rovanich, the department’s first MFA student from outside the country, in the role of Gladys.

The three one-act plays include “Tambo & Bones,” by Dave Harris, a first-year MFA graduate of Yale University . It’s about two characters in a minstrel show and looks at the intersection of race and capitalism, and ponders the connection between pain, profit and bad audiences!

In “The Clitorish,” by Mara Nelson-Greenberg, the lead character Ted, and his wife, hire a tutor to teach their son about female anatomy. The play is said to “explore truthfulness, sexual organs, and how some people dictate the rules of the world.”

Joshua,” by Ali Viterbi, another Yale graduate, who won its top playwriting-prize when he was there, takes place on the anniversary of Anya’s boyfriend Joshua’s death. Anya goes on a trip to the desert with Caleb, who was Joshua’s best friend. The play: “Examines the moment in time when we move from youthfulness and innocence into adulthood and asks, ‘How do we reconcile our lost opportunities, the things we didn’t say, and the paths we didn’t take.’ ”

To round out spring quarter, the theater department will also present an undergraduate production of Ibsen’s classic, “Peer Gynt,” a character who director Charlie Oates says: “assesses his life, which is something we all must do.”

The festival ends with an choreographed dance show directed by Yolanda Snaith.

— For more information and tickets, visit