The 9th Annual Front Range Playwright's Showcase
Playwrights: Isme, by Kelly McMahan, Once Widowed, Twice Divorced, by Jacqueline Garcia, and Gus’s Very First Shift by Oliver Gerland
Company: Coal Creek Theater of Louisville
Venue: Louisville Centrer for the Arts, 801 Grant Street, Louisville CO
Running Time: 3 hours (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance: Friday, August 21, 2015.
The Front Range Playwright’s Showcase is in it’s 9th season, with a single night dedicated to readings of 3 new plays submitted to the company. This year they received 24 submissions to sift through. Judging by the three plays they selected, 2015 is a very strong year for the Showcase and for new work.
The Showcase is structured somewhat like American Idol. Three “adjudicators” (Alphonse Keasley, Madge Montgomery, and Gene Kato) watch the readings from front and center.
After the reading is over, the playwright is given a seat directly in front of the three judges, who then critique the script.
Once all three judges have weighed in, the audience is given a chance to ask questions or offer reactions to the scripts. After the criticism of all the scripts, the adjudicators announce their choice for the winning script.
For those aspiring playwrights who have a justified fear of an American Idol panel, hold your fire. These adjudicators were civilized, respectful, and brilliant in their criticism. The three playwrights in this Showcase should take their feedback to heart. The adjudicators offered them advice that is difficult for a playwright or author to get in any other forum.
The contestants for the 9th Annual Showcase were:
1. Isme by Kelly McMahan
Director: Vonalda Utterback
Isme: Veronica Straight-Lingo
James: Bill Graham
Siobhan/Eteocles/Antigone: Erica Jo Young
Costos/Polyneices: Evan Marquez
Macha: Lisa Lowery
Macha: Lisa Lowery
Narrator: Vonalda Utterback
Ismene has suffered numerous family tragedies that leave her adrift in her own life. She tries to make sense of her past by creating a theatrical production of her own personal journey.
2. Once Widowed, Twice Divorced, by Jacqueline Garcia
Director: Ash VanScoyoc
Eileen: Lynn Fleming
James: Dan Schock
Narrator: Beth Beckel Fitzjarrald
Eileen, a feisty resident of an assisted living facility, receives a new cell phone from her family but doesn’t know how to use it. One of the facility’s orderlies, James, lends a hand. In the process the two end up discussing her long life as Eileen tried to use her new gift to achieve closure for a tragedy that occurred decades before.
3. Gus’s Very First Shift by Oliver Gerland
Director: Lynn Fleming
Marion: Rachel Cohen-Birzer
Margery: Kathleen Boyle Rausch
Guss Goff: As VanScoyoc
Gertrude: Lynn fleming
Tony: Jim Whiteman
Cheryl: Rachel Cohen-Birzer
Darby: Jim Whiteman
Narrator: Dave Dahl
A grocery store manager tells her assistant how a new checkout employee, Gus, who is arriving for his first shift early that morning, will help cut labor costs: because he has a behavioral disorder, his hourly wage is government subsidized. Upon arriving, Gus is disappointed to learn he won’t be paid immediately, but works diligently to satisfy customers while obeying Corporate rules. Assisted by his disorder, Gus has personally enriching engagements with three customers, each a denizen of that strange time just before dawn.
All three scripts were strong, and, of course, all three had room for improvement. In the case of Isme, playwright Kelly McMahan jammed the 40 minute script with an abundance of themes and threads. Elements of comedy and tragedy competed with the philosophical (“one doesn’t need death for a tragedy. Living on might be the tragedy”), the whimsical (Motown and Disco musical breakouts), and contemporary Irish drama as the successor to Greek tragedies. (Note: the quotation is a paraphrase, despite the quotation marks.) Any one of these topics alone would support a one act play; all in the same work is overload of the first order.
In Once Widowed, Twice Divorced, playwright Jacqueline Garcia cleverly evokes the loneliness of aging. Your visibility diminishes, and the worst thing that can happen is that you spend all your time with other old people. Eileen, the aging, tech challenged focus of Once/Twice, however, seems straight out of central casting. She fits our stereotype (cranky, impatient, somewhat intolerant, and self righteous) of someone in the twilight of her years. That she was touched and inspired by her orderlies’ kindness seemed a tad contrived as a result of that stereotype.
Oliver Gerland, playwright for Gus’s Very First Shift, set his play in a 24 hour grocery store where Gus begins work with an easy shift: only 30 minutes (4:30 AM to 5:00 AM). The script puts Gus and his cognitive disability into contact with three customers, and he handles them all with respect and sincerity. It’s an elegant set up for some drama, and the Gus character is very strong. I did find it to be somewhat unlikely, however, as the Store Manager comes off as oblivious, while the disabled Gus is smart enough to turn his disability into an asset. Not that I haven't known some poor managers, but even the least capable could have easily seen through Gus's self serving inquiries about the Corporate Rules.
As I mentioned above, all three scripts were strong, and based on the advice they got from the adjudicators and the audience, they will become stronger with the next draft. In the end, though, the adjudicators had the difficult chore of deciding which of the three excellent scripts would be the winner.
Their decision: Gus’s Very First Shift.
A fine choice indeed from three promising scripts.
A theater company's main mission isn't discovering new work. That main mission is usually producing plays and paying the bills. Finding new talent and giving that talent a stage and an audience is above and beyond the call of duty.
Well done, Coal Creek. Well done indeed. Sorry I missed numbers 1-8, but I'll be back next year for the 10th Annual Front Range Playwright's Showcase.
PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:
I met Vonalda Utterback (Director for Isme) and her husband John at the Zucca Italian Ristorante, 808 Main Street, Louisville. Roxie and I have been there before, and were impressed. This visit just confirmed what we found the first time: great service, delicious food, and great happy hour deals.
All three of us had the $6.00 Happy Hour pizza. Mine was delicious; there wasn’t a scrap left on my plate. Many of their ingredients come from their Three Leaf Farm in Lafayette. Zucca gives locavores something to get out of bed for: delicious food from local sources.
Zucca is an easy 5 minute walk to the Louisville Center for the Arts, so you won’t need to move the car.