Although not obligated to review the premiere of three one-act plays designated Dêmos Krátos Theátro by artistic director Maryssa Wanlass, we find both the production and Utopia Theatre Project’s mission admirable. This experimental theater group uses new works and re-imagined classics to comment on our society and involve audiences. The founders incorporate acting, dance, music, projections, and audience interaction with the aim of engaging and diversifying the theater going public with a Millennial Vaudeville.
Each season probes a hot topic. Last year, the offerings focused on the “Me Too” movement. This year explores the theme of democracy in the context of its perceived erosion since the recent elections. The evening comprises three plays written by emerging playwrights, each examining a different aspect of democracy. They probe what it means to be a citizen, to stay informed, to vote, to take responsibility, to weigh personal needs versus the good of society. Each is a meaningful vignette suited for a very abbreviated time slot, but insufficient to be a true one-act play.
The first play, Daughters of the Ocean, written by Carol S. Lashof, harkens back to Greece, as the cradle of democracy, and asks who is accountable for saving the environment? Has humanity forsaken the task, and must Prometheus suffer eternal torture to save others? Is it alright to knowingly sacrifice an individual to benefit the rest of society?
The second play, The Polling Place, penned by Kenneth Heaton, inspects the right and responsibility to vote. One’s voice cannot be heard if voting has been abdicated. But does that give government the power to write new voting rules that are intended to suppress voting by those likely to have different views than those in power?
Finally, On the Precipice, written by Cleavon Smith, shows how individuals that wish to be represented and heard can be distracted from voting. What excuses are valid? What does failure to participate in democracy say about the values of the citizen? Think back to the previous play to review possible repercussions.
During the interludes between the staged plays, two additional performers engage the audience with vital issues. Lauren Mayer, entertains with poignant message songs delivered in humorous packages. The importance of hiring and promoting women garnered the most applause, with the message that all of the policies and programs and procedures to improve women’s station in the workplace mean nothing if you don’t simply promote women. Another damning ditty distinguishes liberal from conservative in a frightfully accurate way. Mayer cleverly notes that the difference is that liberals believe in science and math and history – i.e., in the facts, while conservatives deny facts with impunity and train their followers to put belief and bias before truth. In a final skewering of conservatives, she regales with a tune about the fraud of voter fraud.
Also entertaining, Amelia Adams involves audience members in a funny, yet sad and astute performance as a clown and political candidate, “Sal Monella.” Those watching must surely hear and envision a current politician that is egotistic, self-serving and oblivious to others’ sensibilities.
Collectively, the founders of Utopia Theatre Project, along with the playwrights, artistic director, directors, actors and technicians call us together to listen, to entertain, to participate, and hopefully to take action.
Dêmos Krátos Theátro is produced by Utopia Theatre Project and plays at Pianofight, 144 Taylor St., San Francisco, CA through October 6, 2018.