Christopher Chen's wildly ambitious "The Hundred Flowers Project" is the winner of the 2012 Glickman Award, bestowed annually by Bay Area theater writers for best new work.
Chen's intricately crafted play is a mashup of a Pirandellian mindgame, a metatheatrical play-within-a-play and an ominous social critique of the Facebook age. "Hundred Flowers" examines the echoes and connections between the cultural revolution of Mao Tse-tung's China and the digital transformation sweeping the U.S. today.
Winner of a Ford Foundation grant, Chen ("Into the Numbers," "The Window Age") studied at U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco State. In "Flowers," which was directed by Desdemona Chiang, he creates an audacious mixed media satire that's extensively researched but never takes itself too seriously. The play's many paradigms constantly shift beneath our feet forcing the audience to re-evaluate our relationship to art, politics and the social media zeitgeist as reality explodes into bloodshed. If all that sounds a bit pretentious, rest assured that Chen also pokes fun at the artistic process, especially the chaos and pomposity of collectives dedicated organic groupthink. He has a fresh and fearless voice and he's not afraid to tackle epic issues and complicated tropes.
The Glickman goes to the author of the best play to make its world premiere in the Bay Area. It comes with a $4,000 prize as well as a plaque for the theater that produced the show. "Flowers" made its world premiere last year at San Francisco's edgy Crowded Fire troupe in partnership with the Playwrights Foundation, where Chen is a resident playwright.
Competition is intense given the tremendous number of new plays debuted in the region. This year, honorable mention went to Josh Costello's lively adaptation of "Little Brother," an Orwellian cautionary tale about the high cost of the war on terror.
The Glickman, named for the late comedy writer and playwright Will Glickman, has been bestowed since 1984. The winner is chosen by a jury of theater critics including yours truly (Karen D'Souza, the San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group), Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Avila of the SF Bay Guardian, Sam Hurwitt of Theatre Bay Area magazine and Theater Dogs blogger Chad Jones.
The prize was created to acknowledge the Bay Area as a breeding ground for new plays as well to spur the development of provocative new work. Previous winners include Sarah Ruhl ("In the Next Room (or the vibrator play,) Denis Johnson ("Soul of a Whore") and Tony Kushner ("Angels in America"). The Glickman will be presented at a ceremony at San Francisco Playhouse in March.
The prolific Chen will debut his latest work, a fluid riff on the novels of Italo Calvino, "The Invisible Play," at a staged reading Jan. 28 at Crowded Fire at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco. www.crowdedfire.org.