New Voices in the Heartland–Fifth annual new play festival at NAT

New Voices in the Heartland–Fifth annual new play festival at NAT

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

After many months, Phyllis Mott and her committee selected five outstanding plays for this year’s festival. The readings took place in Amcore Theater, and intense discussions following the performances gave the playwrights feedback so essential to a work in progress.

Opening the weekend, The Revenge of the Women Dressed Largely in Black by Blake Heathcote, directed by Carl Balson, gave the cast the opportunity to perform a multiplicity of roles. David Gingrich, Katie Muldowney, Pat Staaf and Jerry Stevens met the challenge admirably. Placards identified each character, and Staaf, with her unique ability to turn a subtle phrase into hilarious comedy, fulfilled the playwright’s goal, providing the audience with an evening of light-hearted entertainment.

Jonathan Courie, a young New Yorker, writes of family relationships and the roles we assume. To Carry the Child, set on a deck on the Carolina coast, brings together Beauregard MacDonald (Rod MacDonald), his wife Olivia (Jan Bacino) and their daughters, Cassie (Carolyn Cadigan) and Claire (Laurie Empen). Bacino, as the mother unable to face the reality of Cassie’s recurring cancer, is the queen of denial. Cassie’s anger is palpable. Unable to bear the end of a long-time relationship, her illness and her father’s remoteness, she alienates everyone. Seated on a stool reading the script, Cadigan literally pulls us into her pain. Balancing Cadigan beautifully is Empen, the good sister, married, expecting a child and always there for her parents. Memories are mixed. Often remaining the 12-year-old with unfulfilled expectations, our reunions with family revert to the past. joan e. kole’s direction evokes memorable performances from the entire cast—a five-star production.

Might Have Gone Fishing, Rufus Cadigan’s prize-winning play, has undergone several changes since its inception. A full-length work with a cast included characters only inferred to in its current one-act form, it becomes a precise and gripping play. Gary Wingert is Jonathan McTavish, who dreams of better things and eases his loneliness in an alcoholic haze. Ryan Legler, his son as a child, wants only his father’s love. Stuttering pleas for attention widen the gap between them. Keith Conway plays Jason as an adult, and the schism between father and son remains. Cadigan’s complete trust in Bern Sundstedt’s direction was voiced at the talk back. The joy of the playwright and the belief in his work and its message is at the core of fine theater.

Impression Sunrise: by Ralph Tropf, directed by Gail Dartez, played Sunday afternoon. A family commitment prevented me from attending. The Young Playwrights Festival included works by Anders Pauley, Josh Turner, Jeremiah Antosch, Andrew Jones, Regina de Guzman, Sharetha Lewers and Kelsey Beach. Several of the playwrights served as mentors and expressed amazement at the talent of these young people.

Steven Packard’s The Fettered Rose closed the festival. His plays have had more than 80 productions and readings on national stages. Going Down, his current work in progress, was seen this summer in NewPlay 2001, produced by Prop Thtr. in Chicago. He lives in Buckley, Ill., and many of his plays are set in a similar community, Buntville. The Fettered Rose refers to Rose Johnson (Marne Wade). Trapped in an abusive marriage, she seeks escape in an affair with Raymon William (Dan Scott). Her husband Carl (Jim Radloff) and his town pals, Otto (Jack Rabito), Herb (Mark Kann) and Theo (Ken Staaf) conspire to “solve the problem.” A bit of sophistication and humor balances the darkness of the plot when Verna (Gail Dartez) enters. The amoral undercurrents of the small town become the antithesis of family values. Rose’s dreams of escape shatter.

Compliments to NAT, its staff and the fine actors who so capably brought the stories to life. The playwrights were suitably impressed.

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