By Lonnie Burstein HewittLast September, the La Jolla Playhouse kicked off its outside-the-box WoW (Without Walls) program with the hugely successful “Susurrus,” an audio play in San Diego Botanic Garden.
This month, WoW No. 2 takes over a Playhouse parking lot with “The Car Plays,” a collection of intimate 10-minute pieces that will keep viewers carhopping, vehicle to vehicle, with all the action taking place just a seat away from the audience of two.
“The Car Plays” is the creation of Paul Stein, former artistic director of Moving Arts, a small theater company in Los Angeles that performs in assorted venues. Motivated by the loss of their downtown theater space, he came up with the idea of performing inside parked cars, a nice touch for a venue-challenged troupe in a car-obsessed culture.
The event previewed in 2006, won a two-year grant in 2007, and was featured at the Radar LA Festival of contemporary theater last June and Costa Mesa’s Off-Center Festival last month.
For “The Car Plays: San Diego,” the Playhouse commissioned four new pieces by UCSD-MFA playwriting students, asking them to create plays with local settings to add to the Moving Arts mix. They also invited seven local directors to step into the drivers’ seats.
Though the plays are all short-shorts, their subjects are far from skimpy. Themes include family conflicts, couples’ issues, sex, loss, secrets, drinking, and loneliness, not to mention dogs’-eye-views of life and a strange encounter with La Jolla’s seals.
Lisa Rose Kaplan (UCSD-MFA 2008) who now teaches playwriting at UCSB, wrote the seal play, “Selkies.”
“Part of my writing process was taking walks by the water,” she said. “And the seals always seemed so peaceful and magical, so I thought that would be a good place to start.”
“Car Plays” creator Paul Stein, who will act as artistic producer here, shows off his comedy-writing chops in “Disneyland,” and his more serious side as director of “Dead Battery.” Both are solo performances; Stein, who now works for Comedy Central, also directs a lot of solo shows.
About “Car Plays,” he said: “It’s almost like an amusement park meets live theater. The actors do each play five times an hour, 15 times a night — 20 on Saturday and Sunday! And audience members seem to really embrace the chance to watch actors at close range. Sometimes they talk back to the actors and join in the show.”
There are 15 plays in all; one ticket gives you access to a row of five, what Paul Stein calls “the full palette,” including a drama, a comedy, a thriller, at least one local playwright, and a seat change.
Come park at the Playhouse and be part of “The Car Plays.” It’s certain to be a moving experience.
If you go
What: ‘The Car Plays: San Diego’
5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday;
3, 4:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday;
Feb. 23-March 4
La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UCSD campus