A&E

'Slices' of life

Pear Theatre event showcases original short plays

The Pear Theatre drew a packed house for the May 4 opening night of "Pear Slices 2018," in which the best of eight new short plays featured the existential philosophizing of three hot dogs endlessly rotating in a convenience store broiler.

In Paul Braverman's 12-minute delight of a play, "Stuck in the Middle," the title hot dog, played by Ariel Aronica, is worried because she can't complete a full rotation — her spindle is stuck, so she keeps turning to the right, then snaps back to face the audience.

The hot dog on her right, played by Kyle Smith, "sure seems to know a lot about spirituality," as he maunders on about being chosen by "The Tongs of God," and being taken to spend eternity on a bed of dough.

The hot dog on the left, played by Matt Brown, spends a lot of time reading, because every rotation he gets to see covers of newspapers and magazines across the aisle from him. He's worried about getting swallowed in a big, dark hole.

Hot dog on the right only gets to see the corn dogs, and he doesn't trust them at all.

It's funny, it's clever, and it does what any good short play (or short story) should do: It gets in, grabs attention with something moving or something funny, makes its point and gets out.

Surrounded by the Googleplex, the Computer History Museum, Microsoft and other big-deal tech companies, some of the Pear Playwrights Guild seemed to have the crush of the brave new world on their minds.

In Leah Halper's "Walk the Plank," a child's pirate-themed birthday party is disturbed when one of the adult neighbors — a systems engineer — tells the hostess, a pediatrician, that her job is being phased out in favor of a computer program and doctors in faraway places.

Couldn't happen? Sure it could. The pediatrician protests that a child needs the care of a doctor on the spot, but the systems engineer says nurses can take that role, until they, too are phased out.

(Several years ago, an important newspaper publisher told people that it would make sense to have American city council meetings covered by people in India, watching the meetings online. Cheaper. Just like firing doctors and replacing them with algorithms would be cheaper.)

Alyssa Lupo-Zulueta was chilling as the systems engineer; Nicole Martin was appropriately angry and threatening as the shocked pediatrician; Brown was her husband, the nice-guy nurse.

Not as scary, but funnier, was "Housemaster 3000," by Ross Peter Nelson, wherein Aronica, as Jessie, tries to get an advanced version of something like Alexa to give her a cup of coffee.

Jessie just spent the night with Cameron, played offstage by Brown. His digital home assistant, bit by bit, gives Jessie an idea of how many other "guests" Cameron has had, that Cameron expects her to pay for her coffee — and other information that eventually leads Jessie to escape. Very funny.

Another, more subtle but serious story is "An Afternoon Tango," by Barbara Anderson, wherein Lupo-Zulueta is an elegant woman sitting alone in an al fresco café when a oblivious young couple asks to sit with her.

Martin and Smith talk about how they had to leave the city and move to the suburbs because they were so tired of seeing all the homeless people.

"These people don't have pride," they say.

They offer her some of their chardonnay — it was a bargain, they say, only $40 a bottle. She accepts, and listens to them babble in their selfish, clueless way, including about the homeless person's shopping cart they spot in a corner.

The point of this short play is evident early on but is delicately delivered, nonetheless.

The longest play of the set, at 19 minutes, is "Eagles in Heaven," by Barry Slater. It's about a grandfather who is out on what he wants to be his last camping trip with his granddaughter. Bill C. Jones is very good as the old man, funny and touching, and Aronica is excellent as Becky the granddaughter. Grandpa misses his late wife, and Becky misses her absent father.

Jones is less effective in "A Mind Full of Venom," by Bridgette Dutta Portman, about a meeting between Galileo and a Vatican reactionary. It's a 13-minute look at how church leaders freaked out when Galileo told them the earth was not the center of the universe. Jones has some kind of Western accent and speaks way too softly in this role, which is not good. Smith is stronger as the church guy.

Jones is great, along with Smith and Martin, in "Duelin's for Keeps" by Evan Kokkila-Schumacher, which is about as silly as a rootin'-tootin' Western story can get.

Jones is a trigger-happy Westerner who is serious about being a gun slinger. Smith uses language elegantly — it's very hot, and he can't stop "glistening." Hilarious. And, he can't stand Jones' use of double negatives, which leads to lots of gun play. It's a fun ending to the set.

The penultimate play is "Helping Out Mrs. G," by Steve Koppman, a kind of slice-of-life story about a teenager (Brown) who helps his friend's mother (Lupo-Zulueta) with a few household repairs.

Lupo-Zulueta is quite moving in the 16-minute play, as she revisits a sadness of her youth while showing the boy some family photos. The boy seems to learn something in the encounter; maybe she did, too.

Directed by Robyn Ginsburg Braverman and Troy Johnson, with minimal costume and set changes, the plays run along fairly quickly, with only about a minute between them.

"Pear Slices" has become very popular among Pear regulars over its 15-year-history, and if opening night was any sign, it would be good to get tickets soonest.

Freelance writer John Orr can be emailed at johnorr@regardingarts.com.

What: "Pear Slices 2018"

Where: The Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View

Running time: 139 minutes, one intermission

When: Through May 20

Cost: $10-$35

Info: Go to thepear.org, or call 650-254-1148.

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