What do you get when you mix a nice Jewish boy, his mother, an African-American homeless man and family secrets? Come to the Firehouse New Works Festival Friday, January 18 to discover the messages this mix of characters from the new play Purple Hearts has to offer. The historic theater will be showcasing new plays as part of the 11th Annual New Works Festival in which area playwrights were asked to submit plays that were then judged by an independent panel of theater professionals in blind readings. Presented over two weekends January 18-19 and 25-26, the festival has become highly respected throughout the theatrical community and writers from all over New England participated this year. Tickets ($13 per evening or $38 for a 4-day festival pass) are on sale now and may be purchased in person at the Box Office (Wed-Sun, 12N-5P), by calling 978/462-7336 or online.
Purple Hearts, the 2013 full-length winner will open the Festival at the Arakelian Theater as a staged reading when the curtain goes up Friday, January 18 at 8pm. Written by Merrill Meadow, the story is probably not what you think it is. With a prologue set in a small Camden NJ apartment in 1968 on the fateful day of April 4th when Martin Luther King was shot, the audience is introduced to Max, his wife Charlotte and their then 10-year old son Michael Gold. Fast forward to Act One, Scene 1 when Michael is now in his late 30s and living still in the same apartment, but on his own, and with some of the same memorabilia seen in the 1968 decor: in particular one photograph, an old phonograph and a scratchy copy of a Civil Rights Era song.
We won’t reveal any plot spoilers here as it would do theater-goers a huge disservice, but suffice it to say that these characters, just like real-life characters, are full of surprises. Not only do the individuals keep surprising the audience but they keep surprising each other as well.
The writing is good -- and a couple of the characters have quirky senses of humor. So the ride through the twists and turns of the plot is enjoyable, with a few chuckles along the way help to soften the blows of the hard facts when real life intervenes.
The playwright is currently a resident of Lexington, MA, and has explored issues of race relations and political protest in previous examples of his writing and also in his own life. Born in Trenton, NJ, and raised in Camden and its surrounding New Jersey suburbs, Meadows has been a teacher, a writer, and a fundraiser. As a young teacher at Camden High School in 1984, he was involved in the incident – a protest of the visit by the “Reagan/Bush All-Stars” – that sparks the plot of Purple Hearts. His play Inescapable Mutuality that premiered in Lexington in 2009, dealt with Black-Jewish relations in the post Civil War Era through the 1980s. Purple Hearts is one of three plays that comprises Meadow's Camden Trilogy along with Nighthawks, and the in-progress Jersey Devil. Meadow currently directs Academic and Development Planning at Harvard University.
Audience reaction is vital to the writers as they guide their newest works into the final stages of development and playwright Meadow and the Firehouse invite you to become a part of the creative process with a talk-back after the performance on Friday night. Won't you be there and support the arts?
Something in the Water
Three of the seven playwrights being presented in the line-up of shorts on the second night Saturday, January 19 are from Brookline, MA; which begs the question: is it something in the drinking water of our neighbor to the south that is promoting the breeding of excellent writing?
Patrick Gabridge, a self-proclaimed writer of stage plays, novels, radio plays, and screenplays, is not only one of the three but he has two plays in the Festival this year. An accomplished writer, he is busy juggling many projects. Matter of fact you can see him juggling for real at his website. Besides his participation in the Firehouse New Works Festival with Second Look and Curse the Darkness, he will also be staging A Little Fresh Air and Harvesting Fall Tomatoes at the One-Minute Play Festival at Boston Playwrights Theatre in early January; followed by the production of his Fire on Earth by Fresh Ink Theatre at the Factory Theatre in February. As if that isn’t enough, his latest novel Moving (A Life in Boxes) will be coming out as an e-book late December 2012.
Gabridge's Second Look took the top pick of the shorts this year. And it is short. But the talented Gabridge packs a big wallop in a short 5-page script (six if you count the final three sentences that provide the exit cues). Which brings us to the beauty of the evening of the shorts: some of these little morsels are like the most scrumptious hors d'oeuvres --a little taste that whets the appetite and gets the guests hungry for more.
Marital Prospects from Hell is the offering from another Brookline resident Priya Talhiliani. Festival fans may remember her name from the 2010 NWF submission A Crooked Chapatti. Although relatively new to the theater scene, Tahiliani has found a welcoming audience -- specifically with her ten-minute plays. A graduate of Boston University and Harvard University, she often includes Indian and Indian-American characters to help her explore themes that deal with issues of female sexuality.
The third Brookliner is Carl Rossi who brings his short A Bloomsbury Proposal to the stage. Based on a true incident involving Bloomsbury founder Lytton Strachey and Virginia Stephen (the future Virginia Woolf), the play looks at love when the two participants are more like "two left gloves" than romantic partners. All the action takes place in Bloomsbury London, the birthplace of the literary gatherings that changed the course of the Victorian era. Rossi, a member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Inc., is also an online theatre-critic and legal assistant. He is currently editing a Vietnam veteran's wartime memoir (working title: The Vacation of a Lifetime).
Rounding Out the Field
Rounding out the field of new works being presented during the Festival's second evening of shorts will be four other plays –written by a few authors very familiar to Firehouse audiences, in addition to a few newcomers. Actor Richard Westcott (Pink Panther Two, 27 Dresses, ESPN’s The Bronx Is Burning) put on his playwright hat and took a theatrical look at a married couple who opted for “The 5-Year Plan” instead of “Till Death Do Us Part” when taking their original vows in his new work called The Renewal. A member of Playwrights Platform, a Boston area cooperative of playwrights, directors, and actors; Westcott's recent play Caulk was produced by The Provincetown Theater in Provincetown MA as part of their 2011 Spring Festival.
I'll Have What She's Having by Alexandra Crawford (Salisbury) is a debut piece. This very clever piece of writing about a blind-date and a chance-meeting starts in a bar. OK, that might not sound too original but there is a nice little twist and as we all know: all good things come to those who wait. By day Crawford works in the health-care profession but this writer has experience performing as a stand-up comedian too, so you can bet there will be a chuckle or two.
Newbury playwright Stephen Faria once again will give audience members food for thought in his short piece entitled Inmates. Faria continues to excel at probing serious questions with succinct dialogue. Previous Festival appearances include Egg Whites and Miracles (winner-shorts) and Touching Elephants (2010); Quicksand (full-length alternate selection) and Missing You (2009); Frozen Response and Minutia (2008). His full-length play Boxed In (2010) was produced at the Firehouse and at the West End Theater (Portsmouth). A Ballad for Peggy was also chosen as part of the Boston Theater Marathon in 2011.
Memento Murray by Christopher Lockheardt represents this playwright's fourth appearance at the Firehouse New Works Festival. This charming piece of writing will be good news for any parent who has begotten a scowling teenager. Previous NWF entries from Lockheardt include Blood and Menthol, Not Funny (2010); Stuck (2011); and Bedtime Story (2012).
Always a popular event, theater-goers are encouraged to act quickly to secure their New Works Festival tickets to avoid disappointment. This year's festival promises to continue the tradition of excellence in bring quality new writing to the Arakelian Theater and to North-shore audiences. By supporting this festival patrons not only support the Firehouse Center for the Arts but they also help to foster the development of New England writers, directors, and actors. Be sure you are a part of this very exciting process!
Read more about the Festival here: