It’s curtains for Panndora Productions. Karen Wray and Sonja Berggren, aka The Panndora Girls, are calling it a night at the end of this season—their 20th year of producing new plays. They’re not finished just yet, though. Their swan song, “In My Bones,” written by Doc Andersen-Bloomfield and directed by Berggren, opens tonight at the Garage Theater in Long Beach and runs through May 28. 

The play, delayed three years by Covid, centers on the relationship between a West African teenager (Maiya Carter) and a professor (Wray), who become involuntary roommates at a detention center in England. If it’s half as compelling as the reading I saw in 2019, Panndora’s got a winner. I hear opening weekend is selling out.

Michael Shayan’s “avaaz” is no ordinary one-man show about a mother-son relationship. For one thing, it’s the first major production of an Iranian play in So Cal, as the queer Iranian American Jewish actor-playwright gleefully tells audiences at the finale. The play, which continues through May 27 at South Coast Repertory, is also one of the strangest solo performance pieces I’ve ever seen.

Shayan, who plays both his mother (“every gay man’s dream!”) and himself, has a quirky, offbeat sense of humor that often falls flat. He connects with the audience on many different levels, however—most notably at the end, where he dances with striking physicality—and is never boring.

The play is loosely based on an interview the playwright conducted with his mother, filling in the gaps with his imagination. It’s set against the backdrop of “the on-going women-led revolution happening in Iran, which adds layers of complexity and urgency.”

But wait, there’s more—“avaaz” is not the only world premiere in South Coast Rep’s 2023 Pacific Playwrights Festival. Charlie Oh’s “Coleman ’72” is no ordinary play about a cross-country road trip. This semi-autobiographical story, which centers on a Korean family who leaves their homeland for a better life in the US, should not be missed by anyone who enjoys live theatre. 

A terrific ensemble cast headed by Paul Juhn as the father, is directed by Chay Yew with insight and sensitivity. The play is both generic—depicting things we can all identify with, like eating fast food garbage—as well as uniquely Korean American in its specificity.

The play’s highlight may well be a fierce father-son game of catch, used to impart values to the son, teaching him to stand his ground and not back down from challenges. “Coleman ’72” runs through May 14 at SCR’s Argyos Stage, the perfect space for this intimate drama about an immigrant family engaged in The Great American Adventure of The Road.

Photo: Karen Wray and Sonja Berggren of Panndora Productions.

Author: Jordan Young