ROBERT: I love new plays. They still have that new play smell surrounding them. Makes you giddy. I got to hear three of them this past weekend during HotCity Theatre's GreenHouse New Play Festival. Three plays, all shiny with temporary tags, got dramatic readings by some of the best known actors in St. Louis. Emily, I know you saw Saturday's performance so I thought we'd chat briefly.
EMILY: I have seen the final production of a Greenhouse play, but the "New Play Festival" was new for me. I do admit it was not my favorite staged reading. One of my favorite parts of a staged reading is the chance for actors and audience alike to taste what seeds the author has planted in the text - not only in dialogue, but in inter-character dynamics. The format for these readings (actors faced the audience for all their line delivery) was a bit restrictive and made it harder to get a sense of characters' interpersonal relationships, but it worked well enough for HotCity's purposes.
ROBERT: This is the first time I've been to the festival in its five year history, so I was surprised that all three of the winning plays were penned by out of town writers. I don't know what that says about the quality or the quantity of plays being written in St. Louis. Plus, all the writers were men, which gave the weekend a very male perspective.
EMILY: I agree. All three plays are by career writers - one is an established DC based playwright, one an LA screenwriter, and one a writer whose plays have been produced nationally. And, these pieces were selected of nearly 300 submissions from writers internationally. Looks to me that if locals want in on HotCity's future new play festivals, they're going to have to step up their game.
ROBERT: The play read on Friday night was a superhero play called Reals and was written by Gwydion Suilebhan. Emily, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should know I'm friends with the world's best writer of superhero plays, but I'm doing my best to be impartial. The plot revolves around a pretty average guy trying to be a superhero. Mr. Suilebhan fills his play with plenty of witty dialogue. The end has a twist to it that loses some of it edge because I didn't believe Suilebhan would let his main character do malicious harm.
EMILY: Saturday's show, Day Trader by Eric Rudnick, was all things Hollywood. Day Trader is the story of Ron, a washed up screenwriter, mean wife, bratty daughter, egomaniac neighbor, twenty-something actress lover...blah blah blah. The real intrigue of this piece comes in Act II, where repressed memories begin to emerge from Ron's teenage daughter...or do they? Most notable about this piece is that the play seems to be vehicle for snarky one-liners and Rudnick's own reflections on life as a Hollywood writer. There's no question that Rudnick knows dialogue (his bio notes that, no surprise, he studied with Mamet), but leaves something to be desired in character or plot development. But then, maybe that's only appropriate for a play embedded in LA petty social drama, where human character leaves something to be desired.
ROBERT: Sunday's play, The Winners, by David Williams was my favorite. A married couple wins the lottery and decides the first thing they want to buy is a female escort. While not a perfect script, Williams did a good job of creating complex characters who work themselves into an almost Brechtian dilemma. The play does suffer from SDO however ... sudden dilemma onset. Williams starts off with the couple exploring their sexuality but ends with them talking the escort into adopting their baby for 20 million dollars.
EMILY: The new plays and talk-backs made for a nice change in pace for the local theater scene. Boasting not only a massive turnout of submissions and talented production staff for the pieces, this year the festival featured workshops with Liz Engelman, arguably the country's foremost dramaturg. It seems to me, Robert, that HotCity is definitely carving out a niche for playwrites to rub elbows with some greats. And hopefully next year, some local playwriting talent will elbow its own way in.
ROBERT: I'm on it.