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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Northwestern's 2014 New Playwright's Showcase

Or: Bending Upwards, Searching for the Sun

Last night I had the rare and distinct pleasure of watching ten minute cuttings ten new plays, germinated in the hot house of Professor Schelhardt’s tutelage and raised under her firm and thorough care. Five of them (Houchin’s The Windsor Knot; Flynn’s Helix; Sonheim’s Gallows’ Humor; Bernsten’s Dream Ticket; and Febland’s The Lilliput Troupe) I had already seen full and startlingly moving productions, but I am happy to report that all ten are in a good and healthy state and (at least the bits that I could see) ready for a life beyond the orchard bending their branches against the gusts of public opinion and snaking their roots deep into our thoughts. Sadly there is no time for recognition of the marvelous job done by the cast and creative team; but I hope to give upright answer for the play so that when, as goodness and the gods will, you see these shows put up onstage I can say to you dear reader, you saw it here first.

The Forest Play by Taylor Bostwick

In the midst of a woodland located, fairytale wedding (like an actual fairytale: child cruelty, mysterious illnesses, wolves, etc) several guests (Eva Victor, Garrett Baer, Nick Day and Victoria Cano) wander off into the trees to escape the problems of their loves and losses only to find themselves more vulnerable and exposed (and in impractical formalwear no less) than ever before. From the outset Bostwick smashes the old troupes and recognized situations, preferring to twist a recognizable situation into a new and exciting forms and, more impressively, smash old cliched lines and give them a glitter and freshness. Her characters play well off each other in a sharp tennis of dialog all the more comedic for their self-awareness of their perilous position. There is a tendency for characters to talk at each other: to be fully fleshed out and mired in their own problems, but sometimes too mired to fully pursue their objective in the other. But this was more than forgivable, perhaps a even ploy, for we could hear Bostwick’s cackle in the pauses in between, plotting some big twist to bring all her little darlings to their knees.

Accursed Creators by Laura Winters

1816, the year without a summer. Krakatoa has blown its top and on the other side of the globe is clocked in cold and darkness. In the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva a young brilliant, tormented and capital R “Romantic” (in both literary style and personal conduct) couple named Percy Bysshe Shelley (Scott Wolf) and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley (Ella Pennington) are at it hammer and tongs... erm, writing that is. Their visit is interrupted by Percy’s abandoned fist wife Harriet (Phoebe Gonzales) arrives to take her husband back to his home and children. Winter’s snippet of intense and very 19th century love-triangle obtuseness shows all three characters off in a harsh and revealing life their weaknesses and their glory’s too. Harriet’s and Mary’s measured arguments for Percy’s duty (not to mention the clam and coldly devastating reveal edged out mid scene) keep us on the edge of our seat and make us forget and wonder which way History will fall. Also, extra points for some nice nuanced foreshadowing, only there if you’re looking for it and nothing to stub your toe over, and the niftiest title in an evening of nifty titles.

The Never Land by Zoe Maltby

The shadow of Michael Llewelyn Davies, adoptive son of J.M. Barrie and the inspiration for the same’s most famous creation, has long since been swallowed up by the light of the boy at the window and happy portrayals of his childhood with his guardian. But Maltby has dimmed that light and let its after infect accentuate the darkness of what came after come pouring in. In 1921, Davies (Sam Douglas) and his dear friend (and possible lover Rupert Buxton (Scott Wolf) were discovered dead in the Sanford Locke, victims of a tragic accident or something else. Years later their former friend and now aspiring politico Robert Boothby (A.J. Roy) is forced to relive his memory of the two lost boys. Maltby’s sense of tragedy is devastating, she luxuriates in the bubbles that break the smooth surface of well put together individuals and the laminar flow that leads us calmly but swiftly right to the edge of violence. Complete with delightfully British ejaculations and wicked reworking of Barrie’s text that send delighted chills up the spine; The Never Land (in its 10 minutes) entices the audience forward completely enthralled with the mystery of Davies and Buxton. She pulls the adventure forward, dangles the mystery for us to snatch at and leads us like lambs to the ecstasy of slaughter.

The Art of Losing by Juli Del Prete

After their father disappears three hard knuckled children of Boston (Wyatt Fair, Ari Shapiro, and TBD who gets all the roles, curse her) die hard Red Sox fans struggle to face the future and yet another disastrous season as the 2004 American League Championships unwind. There’s no one like Del Prete for swathing an oblique shadow dance of trauma and despair in a friendly and breathtakingly natural robe of natural behavior. In her language she’s a master joiner, in her depictions of people she’s a first rate portraitist giving us not only tics and troubles but real thoughts and loves too and in her exploration of the plot she’s a magician, keeping us just one step behind her as events tumble toward their vaguely showing but ultimately unknowable conclusion.

All That Falls From the Sky by Cansu Coban

A dysfunctional London Couple’s (Nick Day and Laura WInter) efforts to cull the increasing sociopathic tendencies of their young son (Phoebe Gonzales) are rather set back when an African Immigrant falls from the sky to a sticky dead on their front pavement. Cansu’s elegantly folded plot, of many problems all arcing toward one vanishing point, is supported by her depiction of the point and counter point of two type a’s picking each other apart and trying to hold it together for the little one they love but are growing to fear. It’s a sweeping and sad look at how relationships go bad and the search for some greater meaning outside of what we can grasp, and bows heads even as it kindles shadenfreudeick smiles on our lips; a well-bred hybrid of many modern forms that tickles the mind even as it tugs at the heart.

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