TheatreFirst’s 2020-21 virtual season is presenting six world premiere plays and visual essays. Initially, the theater company aired online chapters of the offerings. Now TheatreFirst is showing full versions of each production.

While the first chapter of Magic Fruit showed great promise, I’m happy to report that the complete version exceeded my early expectations. The one-hour artfully filmed play contains well-acted, complex, strongly developed characters in an engaging and timely story.

Magic Fruit was outstandingly written and performed by Kimiya Shokri and Alejandra Maria Rivas. It was nicely developed and ably directed by Susannah Martin (Elevada, Women Laughing Alone With Salad, Caught). The play is set during the lockdown and follows the growing relationship between local food journalist Tara (Kimiya Shokri) and Amaya (Alejandra Maria Rivas), the Asian/French fusion-style chef of a noted San Francisco restaurant.

At the play’s inception, Tara tries persistently, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to obtain an essential interview with the reluctant and perhaps depressed Amaya. The two women are each living alone in separate Bay Area apartments and have had their careers interrupted by the pandemic. After Amaya fails to cooperate in being interviewed, she leaves a dish of carefully prepared food at Tara’s door in an act of contrition.

The two begin to cook elaborate dishes of food for each other, and as the pandemic year lengthens, they reach back to their favorite comfort foods. Tara fixes the Persian dishes her grandparents savored, and Amaya finally learns to love the Mexican cuisine of her roots.

From the exchange of foods, a close relationship develops between Tara and Amaya. They share the ups and downs of their lives and the far-away families who need them. It’s a pleasure to watch their relationship develop as their shared laughter and confidences grow.

Visually designed by Erin Gilley (The Waste Land), the video is as crisp as the dialogue and contains an American Sign Language interpreter. The fine acting and directing transports the production into a thoroughly engaging experience that is far above the realm of a more ordinary Zoom video.

TheatreFirst is widely known and respected for its progressive philosophy as well as its artistic vision. When director and playwright Jon Tracy joined the company in 2016, he became its “artistic facilitator,” rather than the more typical “artistic director.” Tracy recently demoted himself to the subordinate position of “company manager” to foster new leaders of color.

Brendan Simon, TheatreFirst’s new artistic director, was appointed in February 2021. He has dedicated over 25 years to his creative crafts and has directed and performed on local, regional and national stages. Simon co-created RISE UP, a national program for educators to foster resilience in school environments despite adverse childhood experiences and traumas. He recently began working to transform educational theater’s middle school programming to address racism and include equality and social justice messages.

TheatreFirst plans to become a pipeline for artistic directors who understand the experience of Black, Indigenous and people of color to create, build and ultimately lead larger institutions. The initiative supports a three-and-a-half-year residency for the new leadership, which will continuously shift control of the company.

Tickets to view Magic Fruit are sold individually ($15) and may be watched through the end of the season. Subscriptions for the entire season are also for sale ($60).

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...