EXPENSIVE. Out of touch. Indulgent. Boring. Live theater is easy to criticize, and often the critiques land precisely on point. But it's not all monocles and top hats: Portland Center Stage's JAW: A Playwrights Festival is an annual antidote to theater's stuffy, highbrow tendencies. JAW's weekend of staged readings represents the culmination of a nationwide search and two weeks of intensive script workshopping and revisions; for playwrights, it's a chance to develop their work, and for audiences, it's an opportunity to get an early look at cutting-edge scripts from some of the English language's most interesting contemporary playwrights.

Recent JAW success stories include Storm Large's Crazy Enough, which went on to an extended run at Portland Center Stage (PCS), and the well-received 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan, which was picked up by Theatre Vertigo last season. That gets at the heart of why JAW is such an important cultural force: Shows workshopped at JAW frequently crop up on local and national stages, providing Portland audiences a glimpse of both the playwriting process, and a chance to see those shows before the rest of the world.

Made in Oregon—JAW's kick-off event features five to eight minute "micro-plays" from eight Oregon playwrights, followed by a festival kickoff party. Thurs 8 pm

Bo-Nita—A play about a 13-year-old girl with a working-class mother and a dead ex-stepfather, from Seattle playwright Elizabeth Heffron, best known for her 2006 play Mitzi's Abortion. Fri 4 pm

Broken StonesThe newest from UK playwright Fin Kennedy, whose existentialist parable How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found was produced at PCS in 2009. Broken Stones begins when a former US Marine meets with a ghostwriter to discuss the Marine's role in the looting of the Baghdad Museum during the Iraq War. Fri 8 pm

The Bachelors—One of the most fun-sounding shows on the JAW roster, Caroline V. McGraw's The Bachelors is about three hard-drinking roommates clinging to their college party days, long after those days should've ended. Sat 4 pm

San Diego—Playwright Adam Bock is best known for The Receptionist, a smart, unsettling show that married an observant character study—of a receptionist, the competent linchpin of a mysterious office—to an incisive critique of post-9/11 information-gathering techniques. (The show did so well in Portland that it ran back-to-back at the CoHo in 2008 and Portland Center Stage in 2010.) Bock's new show, San Diego, promises a quirky cast of characters looking for redemption in San Diego... of all places. Sat 8 pm

The People's Republic of Portland—Any show satirizing Portland's much-mocked culture must first distinguish itself from Portlandia, and it remains to be seen how Lauren Weedman's new solo show—already commissioned by PCS for the 2012/2013 season—will do that. Weedman's solo show Bust ran to general acclaim at PCS last season. Sun 4 pm

The Few—Idaho-born playwright Sam Hunter picked up an Obie (the Village Voice-sponsored off-Broadway theater award) in 2011 for his play A Bright New Boise, which was set among employees of a big-box craft-supply store. The setting for his new play, The Few, is similarly idiosyncratic: It's about a man whose "labor of love" is running a newspaper geared toward truckers. Sun 8 pm