The Wild West, the Maine coast, King Arthur and the Deep South
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
Yellow Taxi’s third play contest in its five-year existence garnered 22 full-length play submissions. Four were chosen for the 2007 Susan McIntyre Play Reading Series. One of those will be chosen for a full production at the Susan McIntyre Play Festival in March 2008.
“As far as I know, we are the only company in New Hampshire who does anything like this,” said Yellow Taxi’s playwright-in-residence Lowell Williams, who headed the play-reading committee. Submissions came from 11 states. The Players Ring in Portsmouth offers a contest, but writers must live within 60 miles.
Without staged readings, “it’s really hard to get real honest critical feedback,” Williams said. Staged readings let the playwright see an audience’s reactions. “You don’t need a full production to recognize what’s good or bad about your play,” Williams said.
The first play on the schedule is Weekend at the Dreaming Cloud, by Kelly DuMar, of Sherborn, Mass., set for Monday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Hunt Building, 6 Main St. in Nashua, directed by Leah Belanger.
“It’s really a love story, but it’s also about recovering and healing from trauma,” DuMar said. Set at a bed and breakfast in coastal Maine, Weekend is hopeful. The characters are “reflecting on the impact of the tragedy in order to transform it,” she said. This is a rewrite DuMar did after a developmental staged reading in Boston last April. DuMar is president of Playwright’s Platform in Boston.
Salisbury Plain is a first attempt by Manchester lawyer Michael Davidow. Written in iambic pentameter with strong female characters, the story is set in King Arthur’s court after his final fight with his son.
“The king comes into his throne through a certain kind of subterfuge” and his son takes the throne in the same way, Davidow said of his play. Davidow followed the Elizabethan practice of including minimal stage direction, leaving producers to decide how lavish or simple staging should be. Salisbury Plain will be read May 21, directed by John Sefel.
The series continues in the fall with The Straight Line by Jerry Bisantz of Lowell, Mass., on Sept. 17. It’s an Old West “male version of Thelma and Louise” complete with a shootout, Bisantz said. Two 50-something men from Boston set out to cross America, but their car breaks down in Nebraska, where they meet a Native American brewmaster and his punk drug-addict girlfriend as well as a one-legged ex-athlete diner owner and the highway patrolwoman who is in love with him.
“It’s really about the [pace of the] world we live in today and how people feel like they really don’t have the chance to make their mark,” Bisantz said. Bisantz is on the boards of Playwrights Platform and Image Theater, a Lowell group that produces unpublished work.
David Robson operates Painted Bird Productions with his wife Sonja in Wilmington, Del. His newest script, After Denmark, will be read in October. In it, Lyndon Sykes receives a mysterious letter after winning a prestigious award.
“In an attempt to find his past — which may be linked to controversial 19th-century black leader Denmark Vesey — the young editor travels to the Deep South,” Robson wrote. Robson was a classmate of Williams’ in their MFA program, but Williams did not read Robson’s submission.
Before reading the scripts, Williams assigned his committee more reading: Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, by David Ball. Williams looks for convincing characters and requires that all scenes move the story along. Neatness counts, too.