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Fresh fruit

'Pear Slices' festival celebrates short plays by local writers

Thirteen is a lucky number for the Pear Theatre. This month, the Mountain View company presents its 13th annual Pear Slices festival, featuring a fresh crop of 14 one-act plays written by members of its Pear Playwright Guild. "Pear Slices 2016" will be performed in two slates of seven plays each, happening on alternating evenings (patrons can buy tickets for one slate or both). The expanded production will be the first Slices festival for the company in its new, bigger space on La Avenida Street, around the corner from its original Pear Avenue home.

Woodside resident Elyce Melmon has been with the Pear since 2003, when the company produced one of her full-length plays. She said she's been involved with the Pear Slices festival most years since then. This year, she's contributed a two-character drama, "It Begins with Goodbye," about a widower whose daughter convinces him to go to grief counseling.

"At first he insists he doesn't need it; his wife was a nag, now he can sleep better and drink his martinis," Melmon said. "But as he speaks of her, we learn he really loved her very much. It's basically a glimpse into the loss of an unconventional marriage and some of the faces that grief wears."

Melmon said she enjoys exploring social issues.

"I wrote one about a man who was just getting out of prison having been mistakenly punished for a crime he did not commit. The one I did last year was about surrogate motherhood. There's one about genetic engineering and the survivor of suicide," she said.

A retired English teacher, Melmon has been writing plays for a long time, including writing her master's thesis in the form of a play.

"When I retired, that was part of the intent, to spend more time writing," she said. "I like to write plays because of the wonderful collaboration, to have something you've had in your head come to life right in front of you. The actors and directors really make a difference. They bring their experiences to your emotional output," she said.

"... There's something about an empty, dark theater that's really romantic to me," she added. "I've always loved it."

Melmon said one of her favorite plays in this year's festival is "Birders," a birdwatching-based romantic comedy by Barbara Anderson.

As a longtime member of the Pear's Playwright Guild, Melmon said she continues to find value in the group of around 20 members, which meets once or twice a month to share work and get feedback.

"It's a very supportive group. Their critiques are very honest, sometimes tough, and extremely helpful," she said. "I feel honored (to be involved). I'm kind of at the top of the heap as one of the older members," she said. "We have some wonderful young people."

E. Kokkila Schumacher is one of Melmon's younger fellow guild members. His supernatural-tinged play, "Not All That Glimmers is Gold," made it into this year's Slices festival. This is his second year contributing to the Slices program.

Schumacher said that while he often tends toward comedy, this year he decided to challenge himself and try his hand at a drama.

Understandably reluctant to spoil a major plot twist in "All That Glimmers," he described the play as being about "a guy who has the ability to see things that others cannot" and has a run in with a woman that will prove fateful. The play explores assumptions and how the power of knowledge can change things.

"I get a lot of weird ideas," he said. "Sometimes I don't think there is enough sci-fi in theater or horror. I'm always looking for what I haven't seen before, what can be done on stage," he said.

Schumacher, who moved to the Bay Area four years ago, has acted in Pear productions, too. He recently performed in "The Beard of Avon."

At this year's festival, Schumacher is especially glad to see David Schreiber's "Transcontinental" come to life. The one-act play is billed as a sweet encounter in an 1870s San Francisco chocolate shop.

"I was so touched and heartbroken by it. It's a very wonderful play. I heard that one (at a guild meeting) almost six months ago, and it stuck with me. There are some stories that just need to be told," he said.

The creative process is never too far from Schumacher's mind, even at his day job working for Google's help center.

"I'm always working on something, always thinking of different stories. I'm writing lots ... even if it is help articles," he said with a grin.

Diane Gribschaw works full time at NASA's Earth Science Division but said she's always been interested in writing. She has been playwriting for the past seven years since becoming inspired by a course at Foothill College, which taught her not only the basics of how to structure a play and fine tune the story, but also the value of physically talking and walking through new pieces.

"I don't think I can overstate the importance of that class. It was such a catalyst for me as a person and as a writer," the Redwood City resident said. She's found similar inspiration working with the Pear.

"As far as I know, I think the Pear is unusual on the Peninsula in having a dedicated playwrights guild," she said. And because she particularly enjoys writing short plays (generally around 20 minutes in length), she treasures the annual Pear Slices event even more. This year, her third with Slices, she's contributing "Double or Nothing," about the relationship between a gambling addict and a love addict.

"I decided that I wanted to do a piece about addiction because it's such a prevalent struggle in our society and so many people are touched by it, but I felt like drug addiction was a little bit overused. Gambling addiction can go on for a very long time but people aren't always aware of it," she said. She described her plays as exploring "core emotional issues" and said she strives to use gender-neutral pronouns and names to open up the acting possibilities and focus more on the universality of the experiences being explored.

"I feel like if my plays have made people look at something in a different way than they otherwise would have, then it's a success," she said.

What: "Pear Slices 2016"

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

When: Slates A and B alternate evenings, with both slates running on May 21. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. (special Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. on May 21) through May 29.

Cost: Tickets are $30/$25 for students and seniors. Discount available for patrons who wish to reserve tickets for both "Pear Slices" slates.

Info: For more information, including a guide to which plays are in which slates, go to Pear Theatre.

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