Welcome to Cypress, CA: A Playwrighting Foundry

Cypress College may just be a community college located in one of the more nondescript cities in Orange County, but every summer for the past 15 it's hosted one of the finest new play festivals in the state.

The Cypress College New Play Festival 2010 includes works by: Ruth McKee, Steve Totland, Erik Patterson, Deron Bos and James M. Salinas. While McKee's and Totland's plays have already been performed, tonight is the latest work by Patterson, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, about a woman who meets a group of strangers while sitting in a waiting room wondering if her finance will survive a brain aneurysm.

The Los Angeles-based Patterson has earned productions at such prestigious City of the Angels' venues as Theatre of NOTE and the Actors' Gang.

Next Thursday comes Deron Bros' The City She Wants Me, about four quirky sounding people. One aspires to be a Lego superstar, another has been called by God, one more is trying to rebuild 1930s Los Angeles in an abandoned warehouse, and the last is going to die very soon. Bros, who studied with an icon of experimental theater, Mac Wellman, while earning his MFA in playwrighting from Brooklyn College, has also worked with some cutting-edge theaters, including Circle X Theatre in Los Angeles and Soho Rep in New York.

The final play in this year's series, which will be read Thursday, Aug. 5, is Janine M. Salinas' The Anatomy of Gazelle, about an awkward emo girl of 16 obsessed with comic books who meets a charismatic evangelical leader while living in a transitional house. Salinas has won a slew of awards and grants, but even as impressive is that she's worked as a poet and theater instructor in high schools, juvenile halls and women's prisons throughout California.

The aim of this new play festival, like any other, is to help develop new works in order to get them ready for full-scale productions. And Cypress' record is impressive, with plays worked on there advancing to notable regional theaters such as The Wooly Mammoth Theater Company, in Washington, D.C,  the La Jolla Playhouse and the Mark Taper Forum. Last year, Michael Golamco's Year Zero was read at Cypress in the summer and premiered at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in the fall of 2009 and, earlier this year, at the McGinn/Cazale Theater in NYC.

These are just staged readings at Cypress; but if the idea of not seeing a full-fledged production of a script gives you the idea that it's not as legitimate an experience, think again. Staged readings are the closest the audience's ears get to the words of a playwright and, many times, hearing a play in a rawer state is actually a more rewaring experience than seeing a production after a director, designers and, most egregiously, actors, get to it.

This weekend also marks the final weekend of Stages Theatre's highly successful run of four Twilight Zone episodes. The plays on tap include The Shelter and The Piano in the House.

Cypress College New Play Festival 2010: Cypress College Studio Theater, 9200 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 484-7201. Thurs., July 22, July 29, Aug.5, 8 p.m. $5. www.cypresscollege.edu.

Twilight Zone at Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m. $10. www.stagesoc.org. 

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