"You want to be in the show?" I don't usually get asked that question when I arrive at the theater. But then the theater usually isn't a neighborhood diner, and the show isn't unfolding around the counter and in between booths full of customers. So, I thought, What the hell?
Turns out I never really was recruited during New Play Café's Simply Sci-Fi series, held at Judy "The Beauty" Forman's Big Kitchen in South Park. But I did have actors sitting practically beside me or breathing down my neck or brushing past me on their way from one side of the diner to the other, during one of the six 10-minute mini-plays. This site-specific theater, reminiscent of La Jolla Playhouse's The Car Plays last year, features six new science-fiction works written by local playwrights, half of them directed by New Play Café co-founder Kevin Six and half by Eric Poppick. The difference is these little vignettes employ two rooms inside the Big Kitchen as a "stage," as opposed to the front or back seat of parked automobiles. Claustrophobic? Probably more for the actors than for the audience members, who are seated in the midst of the action. But the Big Kitchen always has been, and still is, a cozy spot, and you get coffee and dessert as part of your admission ($20 online, $30 at the door).
You might expect that a 10-minute play will have rough spots, and all of them do, but so what? The actors are into it, the sci-fi is an eerily appealing angle, and with a dish of fruit or strawberry shortcake in front of you, life is good. Of the six sci-fi plays, the most engrossing are those with Philip John in the cast (each play has two or three actors in it): Time Travel Café and Evil Alan (that's the funniest, too). The other plays include Crash Bang Boom (stoners vs. aliens), Romancing the Machine (love and conception in the future), Don Juan Whitman on Earth (inter-terrestrial seduction) and Peripathetic (stranger in a strange world).
New Play Café's Simply Sci-Fi continues tonight (Friday, Aug. 23), as well as Aug. 29 and 30. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Visit newplaycafe.com