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The Horizon of Playwriting

By Rick Pender · February 16th, 2010 · Curtain Call

Two weeks ago I wrote that theater critics are not a bunch of nitpicking naysayers. I want to offer further evidence this week, pointing out that critics often bring attention to new works by playwrights. There’s not much money to be made from writing plays; some writers chase TV and film opportunities. But many return when they can to their first love, the stage, to see their words come to life before an audience.

That audience often includes critics who spread the word about a new script or a new talent — or about an established writer who’s tried something new. I recently wrote about esteemed novelist Walter Mosley’s first play The Fall of Heaven, premiering at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It’s onstage through Saturday.

Last week I attended the Colorado New Play Summit at the Denver Center Theater Company (DCTC). This annual event presents readings of four previously unstaged plays with actors onstage holding scripts. There’s no physical action — a narrator reads the stage directions. It’s just the words and an audience, the first chance for a play to be heard and understood. DCTC also fully produces two plays read the year before. If you attend in consecutive years, you get to see a play or two evolve.

This year’s staged works were Rogelio Martinez’s When Tang Met Laika, an exploration of the Cold War in the 1990s played out by Russians and Americans aboard the International Space Station, and Eric Schmiedl’s Eventide, about a pair of aging brothers struggling to manage a remote, rural ranch and an adopted daughter.

I was moved by the latter’s reading a year ago, a moving adaptation of Kent Haruf’s novel (and a sequel to another novel-to-play adaptation about the McPheron brothers, Plainsong).

DCTC’s new scripts this year include Map of Heaven by Michele Lowe and The House of Spirits by Caridad Svich. If those playwrights sound familiar, that’s because Lowe’s Victoria Musica premiered at the Cincinnati Playhouse last October; Svich’s Alchemy of Desire/Dead Man’s Blues was a new play prize winner at the Playhouse in 1994. Lowe’s new script, like her recent Cincinnati production, is about an artist — this time a painter rather than a musician — whose career is derailed; Svich’s work adapts Isabele Allende’s bestseller about political and social upheaval in Latin America. By the way, I’ve enticed almost 20 other critics to attend and write about these shows.

Next month I’ll attend the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville (which opens this weekend), a venerable launching pad for new scripts. I’m unfamiliar with the six playwrights or creative collaboratives whose work will be showcased at the 34th annual event, but I’m eager to have a look at the horizon of playwriting.

My excursions to Denver and Louisville allow me to see what’s on the road ahead that our local theaters might bring to Cincinnati audiences. In the meantime, I hope you’ll do your own sampling of new works on local stages, including the regional premieres of the new musical Adding Machine at Know Theatre (just opened, running through March 6) and Becky’s New Car at Ensemble Theatre (March 10-28) by Steven Dietz. The theater is a living, breathing art form and, as a critic, I look forward to sharing the good news with you.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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