2013 New Works Festival TheatreWorks’ New Works – Part 2

TheatreWorks’ 2013 New Works Festival will be held August 10 – 18 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, California,  and will attract both local theatre lovers and national industry figures to see staged readings of five new works plus some special festival events.  The three new plays and two new musicals offer a diverse and exciting array of contemporary American theatre with some impressive artists both creating and directing the work:

1.  Gather at the River by Laura Marks, directed by Mike Donahue

Laura Marks

Laura Marks

Laura Marks drew on her Kentucky roots in writing Gather at the River, a  play about religion, morality and the extreme ends of the blue-state vs. red-state divide. “In a moment of weakness, a liberal New Yorker agrees to go on a volunteer trip. Soon she’s in the middle of Eastern Kentucky, sleeping on an air mattress and fending off conversion attempts from extreme fundamentalist Christians.”

I think this is a particularly sweet time to share a moment in Laura Mark’s playwrighting career.  Her recent armloads of awards and honors too numerous to list, and the critical acclaim of her play Bethany (off  Broadway last year and at The Old Globe in San Diego this season) are indicators that we  may be seeing a lot more of her work.

[Personal small world story:  Months before the TheatreWorks 2013 Festival plays were selected (much less who would direct them), I met Mike Donahue at the Colorado New Play Summit in Denver (where he had so beautifully directed Grace, or the Art of Climbing) and exchanged emails with him about my following his career for “a year in the life of a director” story.  So, I am particularly thrilled Mike Donahue will be directing the reading of Laura Mark's play at this summer's festival!]

2.  The Great Pretender by David West Read, directed by Stephen Brackett

A bittersweet comedy —   “A puppeteer’s passing haunts a children’s TV host in this tribute to the joyous programs that shaped our youth.  In this comic tale of love, loss, and friendship, both man and puppet could use a helping hand.”

David West Read was born and raised in Canada and is now a  New York-based playwright and screenwriter.  His previously produced plays include The Performers (Broadway premiere 2012 starring Henry Winkler) and The Dream of the Burning Boy (Drama League Award nomination, John Gassner Award nomination).  The TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival reading of The Great Pretender will be directed by Stephen Brackett who directed last summer’s developmental musical The Trouble With Doug.

3.  Laugh by Beth Henley, with new music to be composed by Wayne Barker, directed by David Schweizer

Beth Henley

Beth Henley

Three years ago Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart) was already starting to think about the play that is being read this summer in TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival and she had already named it Laugh.  In a 2010 interview, she  said she was visualizing a farce “with people getting hit in the face with cream pies and the like.”   We’ll have to wait and see the reading to find out how much her vision has changed in the intervening three years now that she’s actually written the play, but I did speak with Tom Bruett, TheatreWork’s Acting Director of New Works who has read the script.  He said “It’s a VERY interesting piece and there is a whole lot more going on than a just a simple farce.”  TheatreWorks’ website says that it “evokes the slapstick comedies of Hollywood’s Roaring 20s.  It’s a tale for the love-struck, told with a touch of melancholy and a wealth of insight.”

The reading of Laugh will be directed by David Schweizer, a well-known and widely respected director after close to 40 years of innovative stage directing all over the country.  Based on Schweizer’s recommendation, it was recently announced that composer Wayne Barker (nominated for a Tony and winner of the Drama Desk Award for his score of Peter and the Star Catcher) is joining the artistic team and adding his particular talents to the development of this work.  I’m told that Barker loves to accompany silent film festivals so it sounds like this play will be a fun project for him —  for all of us!

4.  Cubamor by James Sasser (book & lyrics) & Charles Vincent Burwell (music & lyrics), based on the independent film Cubamor by Joshua Bee Alafia, directed by Kent Nicholson

Kent Nicholson (photo by Tim Fort)

Kent Nicholson
(photo by Tim Fort)

The musical Cubamor is set in present day Havana and is the story of four young people – two American graduate students who travel to Cuba on a summer goodwill tour for their university and the two Cuban artists (a dancer and a street musician) they fall in love with despite the American-Cuban political and historical divide.  The show (which will ultimately include significant dance) blends American and Cuban musical languages to tell the story.

Cubamor will be directed by Kent Nicholson, currently the Director of Musical Theatre at Playwrights Horizons in New York, who was the first Director of New Works  at TheatreWorks  (from 2001 to 2009) and has returned before to direct  a reading in the New Works Festival.  He is always welcomed back with enthusiasm for his company and his talent.

5.  Mrs. Hughes  music and lyrics by Sharon Kenny and book by Janine Nabers, directed by Robert Kelley

This musical drama is the story of  the tangled lives of poet Sylvia Plath, her husband, poet Ted Hughes, and his mistress Assia.  “With an intricate, contemporary score, Mrs. Hughes explores one of the most sensational—and tragic—literary love triangles in history.”

Robert Kelley, the founder and Artistic Director of TheatreWorks will direct  Mrs. Hughes.

Other Attractions

On the final day of the New Works Festival, August 18 at 4:00 p.m.,  there will be a Meet the Artists Panel featuring Festival playwrights and composers.  TheatreWork’s website says: “To encourage conversation with New Work supporters around the world, this year’s panel will be livestreamed on HowlRoundTV with a Twitter feed to capture questions from viewers.”  TheatreWorks is also co-sponsoring a free presentation with Theatre Bay Area of the 2013 Atlas Bay Area Playwrights Showcase on August 11 at 10 a.m. where ten Bay Area playwrights will read excerpts from their work.  There will be live music during the final Festival weekend and, throughout the Festival, there will  be  food trucks and  an “augmented reality” art installation by Nanette Wylde which will be on view in the Lucie Stern courtyard.  See TheatreWorks’ website and New Works Festival page for schedules and more information on additional special events and activities.

When I see the Festival readings this August, it will be fun to predict which offerings will become the audience favorites — which shows will we see on the mainstage and how will they change?   How will they be enhanced by sets and costumes?   If history repeats itself, odds are good that one or more will join the list of TheatreWorks’ premieres and continue its life in the American theatre from a stage in Palo Alto, California.

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