As we're all too aware, we've been living under COVID-19 conditions for quite a while now. One way of marking this passage of time, in the Peninsula arts world anyway, is by noticing that we're now onto the second year of virtual "Pear Slices." And while 2020's production was done via Zoom, as companies inch toward reopening for in-person audiences, the Pear Theatre has (in some ways) returned to a more traditional format for its annual roundup of short plays by members of its Pear Playwrights Guild while still presenting it digitally on demand.
Last year's production was the Pear's first show performed under lockdown regulations. Since then, the Mountain View-based theater company has had a year of experimenting with how to film and share its work. Now, thanks to the wonder of vaccines, testing and strict safety procedures, "Pear Slices 2021" looks and feels pretty much like live performances at the theater in the past. The actors performed together on stage, mask-free (except when it's part of the story), with theatrical lighting, costumes and all. While audiences don't get the energy and distraction-free vibe of being in person, one benefit of watching on video for verbal learners is the helpful closed-captioning option -- another example of how pandemic adaptations have made theater more accessible in many ways. Because the nine Slices have been uploaded separately, audiences can choose when and in what order to watch them, although there is a suggested flow. Don't have the time or attention to watch the whole shebang straight through? Pick and choose at your leisure.
"Pear Slices" is a time-honored Pear tradition. Even if individual "Slices" may vary in quality from one to the next, or from year to year, it's always a treat to peek into the minds of local writers, to see the fruit of their efforts brought to life by a small cast and a couple of directors. In this case, the directors are Troy Johnson and Melinda Marks, and the actors are Maya Greenberg, Gaz Jemeel, Asha Kelly, Justin P. Lopez, Francheska Johanna Loy and Francisco Rodriguez.
As usual, the bite-size plays cover a range of topics and tones, from mind-bending and mysterious to contemporary realism. Leah Halper's two offerings both deal with real-world parenting and family themes, although in quite different contexts. In the over-long "Hello Heriberto," a young couple on the verge of becoming parents frets over the struggle to live in modern-day California. In "Yes Yes Maybe," one of the production's strongest pieces and based in historical fact, a 40-year-old Buenos Aires man confronts his mother about some long-buried family secrets.
Matthew Fyffe's "A Stable Family" also deals with parenthood, in the form of a lighthearted take on the fears of inadequacy experienced by Joseph and the Three Wise Ones at the birth of Jesus.
Two plays -- "Power(less) Pete" by Meghan Maugeri and "Sequestered" by Barbara Anderson -- set the action within the COVID-19 pandemic, the former about a depressed superhero stuck at home and the latter about an overscheduled (and, it must be said, overprivileged and rather irritating) couple who can't find time in their docket of online meetings and streaming hobby classes to be present together. "Sequestered" boasts a winking moment of self-deprecating humor when the wife notes that while everyone in her online screenwriting class is writing about the lockdown, she's sure she has a unique spin on it.
"Don't Let Go" by Carol Wolf explores a primitive society in which having a useful extra sense may be more of a hazard than a benefit in terms of fitting in to the group. Bridgette Dutta Portman's "Wheel of Fortuna" pits an anonymous goat herder, Queen Cleopatra VII and Emperor Nero against each other in a game show of destiny -- which develops into a philosophy, ancient history and physics lesson -- hosted by the unhappy goddess Fortuna.
Peggy Powell, like Halper, has two inclusions: "Keepsake," about a wife who's not too sure she's ready for her long-dead husband to be resurrected from cryogenic storage; and "Roadside Attraction," in which a couple stop for gas in the middle of nowhere and have an odd encounter (while I was intrigued by "Roadside," I must admit to being baffled afterward).
Pear leader and show producer Sinjin Jones handles sound and video projections, with Kevin Davies as technical director, lighting designer Ben Hemmen, costume designer Pati Bristow and Kelly Weber Barraza as stage and production manager. Except for a few slight bits of buzz in the sound and a few trouble spots with filming focus, the Slices unfold smoothly and simply, with little interference from the camera.
"Pear Slices 2021," with its traditional look and feel yet accessibility for at-home viewers, is a nice showcase for what the Pear Playwrights Guild has been up to over the past challenging -- yet fruitful -- year.
"Pear Slices 2021" is streaming digitally on demand through May 23. Tickets are $30-$34. More information is available at thepear.vbotickets.com/events.