Kelli Kerslake Colaco

Kelli Kerslake Colaco

Kelli Kerslake Colaco’s new play Hazardous Materials — in which two strangers with Middle Eastern roots are seated together on a New York-bound airplane — will get a San Francisco reading Sept. 30. Andre Leben, Brian Levi, Tim Fullerton and Colaco will appear in the reading.

Here’s how Colaco characterizes the play: “Two unlikely Middle Eastern strangers, Peter, a successful English businessman from London, and Philip, a Palestinian office manager with bipolar disorder — who has spontaneously quit his job and is hell-bent on working with Dr. Dre — find themselves seated together on an Airbus from Toronto to New York City. When life gets turbulent, and ratcheted by prejudice and paranoia, our truest selves come to call.”

“The play stemmed from a real experience my husband Paul had flying home on a flight from Toronto to New York,” Colaco told me. “I’ll never forget how shaken he was retelling how he had been seated with a young Middle Eastern guy (Paul often gets mistaken for being Middle Eastern, by the way) and how this seating partner was significantly off-kilter and the rest of the plane was afraid of him. Due to Paul’s familial experience with mental illness, he was not afraid and ended up sort of bonding with the guy, and, in a way, protecting him during the flight.”

She added, “Things got more serious when the guy implored Paul to take him home to his family. All of this had me consider the idea of ‘strangers’ and ‘passengers.’ how there are people we spend our lives with and people who we profoundly connect with for a relative moment, that can literally alter our basic ‘fabric,’ and sometimes even change the course of our lives.”

Hazardous Material, she said, “is a play that has us ask questions about ourselves — what we can handle, our margin of what feels safe, what doesn’t and why.”

The 5 PM Sept. 30 presentation will be at San Francisco Playhouse Studios at 323 Geary Street, Suite 211. The reading is in anticipation of a larger workshop/reading this season. For industry inquiries about the play or attendance to the reading, email the playwright at

Uniquely, Hazardous Materials is an “environmental play where, when it ultimately gets fully produced, the audience will sit assembled like passengers on a plane,” Colaco said. “In this reading, we will look to see where the audience can be enrolled and related to, where it works and doesn’t.”

Colaco’s writing credits include the plays Underbelly, The Meeting, You Are My Sunshine (O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Semi-Finalist) and the web series “The Meek Shall Inherit.” She is a founding member of The Independent Shakespeare Company. She is currently a Teaching Artist at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, CA. She received an M.F.A from the P.T.T.P. (The Professional Theatre Training Program) at the University of Delaware following the actor training program at P.C.P.A (The Pacific Coast Conservatory for The Performing Arts) in Santa Maria, CA. She is a member of the 72nd Street Gang, a collective of dramatists who meet and share work in New York City.

Colaco spent the better part of 2016-17 as a writer of the documentary “The Mad Hannans,” directed and co-written by Martin Shore, now circulating film festivals throughout the country. She recently finished a two-and-a-half year periodic Teaching Residency on Acting and Playwriting at Madrone Continuation High School in San Rafael CA. Her senior class writers of the short play The Break made it into the Finals of The Bay Area Young Playwrights Competition produced by The Marin Theatre Company.

Colaco and her Alma Theatre Company will produce her play You Are My Sunshine at The Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco in April 2018. Check out my previous reporting about its development.