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Arts & Culture

The Car's The Thing In 'The Car Plays'

La Jolla Playhouse presents Moving Arts' "The Car Plays: San Diego" through March 4 at the Playhouse.
Rebecca Davis
La Jolla Playhouse presents Moving Arts' "The Car Plays: San Diego" through March 4 at the Playhouse.
"The Car Plays: San Diego"

A group of theater-goers has just arrived at the La Jolla Playhouse. It’s likely most of them spent an average of 15 minutes in a car just getting here. They’ve come for an evening of theater, but instead of plush red seats in front of a stage, they’ll be getting BACK into a car.

Inside they’ll find actors who will perform a short play in the small space that is the average automobile. Actor Kevin Lamar Coleman says "it’s really interesting relating to the audience in that close-knit of a space."

He's talking about "The Car Plays: San Diego," a series of 10-minute plays performed in cars. Each audience member gets a ticket, which allows them to see five of the 15 plays offered. Car hops are on hand to escort the adventurous patrons from car to car, and play to play.


Paul Stein created "The Car Plays" in Los Angeles. "The practical reason was when I was artistic director of Moving Arts Theater Company back in 2006, we actually lost our theater space so I wanted to keep the company going. So I needed to think of ways to produce and self-generate work regardless of theater space."

Stein came up with the idea for "The Car Plays" while walking in Los Angeles (how odd!) when he witnessed a couple communicating in sign language in a car. Stein says "I started thinking about all of the moments I’ve had in parked cars. I had my first kiss with my wife in a parked car on our first date. I’ve been broken up with many times in my car. But then also Los Angeles you know with the driving sometimes you use the car almost as an escape."

Many of the plays capture intimate, private moments between friends, family members, lovers and strangers. Some are funny, others are quite sad.

Tom Hall is performing in a play called “One for the Road." "I play a guy named Jason who has lost his partner to a drunk-driving accident...He needs to deliver a eulogy but he can’t get the wherewithal to do it so the ghost of his lover comes to visit him and convince him what he needs to do."

The play takes place in the back of a limousine. It's one of the few pieces where the two audience members face the actors. Hall says the proximity to the audience isn't what makes it a challenge work to perform. "The only thing that really challenges me was doing it five times in a single hour because I thought there’s no way. But I find that I’m a bottomless well of tears!"


For the actors, performing each short play five times in a row is like doing five different takes on a movie set. In fact, film acting seems to work better in a car then stage acting, says director Lisa Berger. "We’ve been discovering that when you’re in the car, you actually have to do more cinematic acting, which in the beginning was really hard. We had to keep adjusting back and adjusting back and adjusting back because the stage voices in a car are not good. Too big, too bright."

Berger is directing a car play about two dogs waiting in a car for their owners to return. It’s called “We Wait.” "We decided that we weren’t gonna go like full-blown dog. So they sit like humans but they have dog behaviors. One of them is a little terrier dog and one of them is a lab dog. So I sent them both videos of doggie behavior and we actually picked things that we saw in those videos and brought them into their characters."

Some of the car plays were written by UC San Diego graduate students and many are acted and directed by local theater artists. Audiences on opening night seemed delighted by the whole experience, like Solana Beach resident Jan Shields. "It was just fabulous, I can’t say enough good things about it."

It’s clear "The Car Plays" leave audiences with plenty to talk about on their drive home.

"The Car Plays" will run through March 11th at the La Jolla Playhouse.