PREVIEW Even 32 years after the Playwrights Foundation chose a young Sam Shepard for its first Bay Area Playwrights Festival in 1976, the annual celebration of the script still runs below the radar of the larger local theater-going audience. Perhaps that's because most fans of the stage want to see a full production with costumes, sets, and lighting design rather than the bare-bones staged readings at the festival. Over the decades, the event has played an important role in keeping stages across the country full of vital new works and aiding the budding careers of now-established playwrights such as Pulitzer Prizewinner Nilo Cruz and Liz Duffy Adams, who won critical acclaim with 2002's Dog Act. (SF's Crowded Fire is currently premiering her latest, The Listener). Venture off to Fort Mason during the 10-day festival and you can check out the up-and-coming talent. Of particular interest to conspiracy theorists will be Dominic Orlando's Danny Casolaro Died for You. In the thriller, the writer attempts to suss out the circumstances of his brother's death. A freelance journalist, Casolaro was found dead in a hotel room in 1991 while investigating labyrinthine connections between spy software company Inslaw, US and Israeli governments, and various Islamic organizations. Marcus Gardley is another promising writer worth getting a peek at. The Yalie who made a name for himself here with the East Bay historical drama Love Is a Dream House in Lorin brings a new work, every tongue must confess, about the burning of black Baptist churches in a small Alabama town during the late 1990s. Proving that there is an art to the reading of the play, popular Bay Area director Amy Glazer takes on Whisper from the Book of Etiquette, Claire Chafee's look into the dynamics of wooing surrogate mothers.
2008 BAY AREA PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL July 25Aug 3. See Web site for details. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina and Buchanan, SF. $15$25. (415) 626-0453, ext. 105, www.playwrightsfoundation.org