I’m excited to present Plays and Playwrights 2014, a collection of some of the outstanding new American theater works that were presented during the most recent theatrical season and published on Indie Theater Now.
The eleven plays included here all had their world premieres between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013. I deliberately did not include anything from the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival, since it has its own collection on ITN. Otherwise, in curating this group, I stuck to the principles I have always used in creating our annual play anthologies:
- The plays are the work of new, emerging and/or relatively unheralded playwrights whose voices deserve to heard by a much broader audience.
- The plays challenge the status quos of contemporary dramaturgy and/or contemporary American life.
- The plays enlarge or expand the way that audiences experience theater.
So here’s what we have here: To begin, a triptych of plays that zero in on 21st century life with such sharpness and incisiveness that they almost knock the wind out of you. Penny Jackson’s I Know What Boys Want looks at a problem that never even existed until a couple years ago, focusing on a group of teenage boys who–knowingly or not–destroy a girl’s reputation when they post some X-rated video of her on the internet. Penny wisely shows us many differing perspectives as she examines the ways that technology enables certain kinds of human behaviors and points toward new norms that need to be established to cope with that. Lindsay Joy, in her remarkable Rise and Fall of a Teenage Cyberqueen, probes what seems to be the new American social order, depicting a very broken family consisting of mother, second husband, and two teenage kids, all searching rather desperately for the love and recognition they are somehow unable to give each other. And Dennis Flanagan’s immensely moving how i learned to become a SUPERHERO gives us three damaged young adults attempting to deal with the pain and injustice and hurt they see all around them by willing themselves super powers, with results that bring them to the brink of both tragedy and madness.
Next, a pair of plays that deal with the lives of two famous playwrights but otherwise are as different as it’s possible to be. Richard Warren’s Burning in the Night, which premiered in Arizona last year, is inspired by the life of Dale Wasserman (Man of la Mancha, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), focusing on his years riding the rails with hobos during the Great Depression. Weaving in folk songs of the period and lots of local color, this is a touching and involving look at one man’s path to success as well as our neglected collective past. August Strindberg is the subject of Edward Elefterion’s stark and evocative ALONE, a work whose title gives away its primary theme, which is that the task of making great art is one of the loneliest occupations known to man. Created in Ed’s signature minimalist style, ALONE. nonetheless contains rich humor and a host of memorable characters as it depicts the great Swedish author at a turning point in his career.
Timothy Nolan’s What’s in a Name is also based on a true story, that of Katherine Power, who lived for decades under an assumed identity after escaping from the police during a botched bank robbery that turned murderous. Tim’s work is fiction though, and is a bona fide thriller, as we trace–through flashbacks–the long-stored secrets of its heroine; and also, compellingly, an exploration of identity and reputation and memory. The question posed by the play’s title is thoroughly examined here, with memorable and insightful results.
Less traditional dramatic form is represented here by Nightmares: A Demonstration of the Sublime, written by Adam R. Burnett and presented by Buran Theatre at the Brick in Williamsburg, NYC, before embarking on a multi-city tour that lasted most of 2013. Content and form collide and fold back upon themselves in this post-dramatic work, which juxtaposes a couple of storylines as it explores ideas of originality, beauty, and art. It’s madcap and surprising and funny and off-the-wall; also remarkably smart and timely as it ponders how anything can be new in an era where technology facilitates instantaneous copying and sharing.
The ubiquitous ten-minute play form gets a thrilling revitalization in a pair of programs, both entitled Test. Bill LoCasto contributes three short plays for casts of 2 men while Cheryl King offers four made for 1 man and 1 woman. All turn on the newfangled HIV home test, and explicitly deal with a couple in which one or both will undergo the test in realtime. Test reflects contemporary sexuality and relationships in a most refreshing way, and offers outstanding opportunities for actors of every age and talent.
We’ve also got a solo play here, which is appropriate because this particular genre is undergoing a real boom right now in terms of both quality and quantity. The one I’ve selected is Linda Lovely Goes to Broadway, a gorgeous, touching piece about a young woman with Down’s Syndrome whose dream is to star in Oklahoma! on the Great White Way. With the help of a dedicated teacher (Ann Morrison, who wrote and performed this piece at the 2012 United Solo Festival), Linda Lovely gets her wish. This is a play about love, dedication, commitment, and dreams.
Finally, North to Maine by Brenton Lengel reminds us that theater, even produced on a small budget in the indie sector, and even with just a few characters on stage, has the potential to be epic. It’s about a group of people who are walking the length of the Appalachian Trail–all 2000+ miles (something that the playwright himself has done). North to Maine is about what it means to be human and how and why our capacity to strive for greatness finally defines us.
I am proud and honored to present all of these extraordinary plays and playwrights to readers in this new collection. Every one is ripe for performance, and worthy of study and discussion. Have at them, and enjoy!
(Thanks to Cate Cammarata for suggesting that we create this collection!)