Florida Atlantic University’s Theatre Lab ends its second full season – its first with a slate of fully produced plays – with a New Play Festival, May 10-14, in Parliament Hall on FAU’s Boca Raton campus.
The festival kicks off with an evening of short plays selected from submissions by participants in the master classes of the Playwrights Forum, led by associate artistic director Matt Stabile. But the chief focus of the festival is reading five full-length play scripts, searching for candidates for next season’s Theatre Lab mainstage.
Artistic director Lou Tyrrell readily concedes that he has not yet selected any plays for production beginning this fall. But nor does he seem bothered by that fact.
“At Florida Stage, as we got bigger, we had to select our season sooner,” he explains. “In the early days of Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches,” the early version of Florida Stage, “we could choose a season in September. Now it’s similar again, because we don’t have 2,000 subscribers waiting to re-subscribe. I just want it to be the three right plays.”
Three of the playwrights whose work will be read by casts of popular South Florida actors will be familiar to audiences of Florida Stage and The Arts Garage – Christopher Demos-Brown, Tammy Ryan and Peter Sagal. The other two are young emerging writers who have not yet been produced – Gia Marotta and Gina Montet.
Tyrrell insists he is unsure which of the scripts will be embraced by the audience and emerge from the festival with a slot in the season. “I have no idea how these plays are going to land,” he concedes. “I’ve been surprised many times before. Often the success with the audience is because of the cast, which can just lift a story off the page and run with it.”
Tyrrell keeps tabs on playwrights he has worked with previously, so he reached out to the veteran writers in this year’s festival and simply asked what they were working on. In the case of Demos-Brown – author of Carbonell Award winner When The Sun Shone Brighter – “I called him and said, ‘Whatcha got?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m working on this idea,’” a Trump-era political play.
But Demos-Brown had not started writing at that point. “So I gave him a deadline,” recalls Tyrrell, “and he gulped and went, ‘OK.’ He’s writing it now. I haven’t seen a draft. This is the kind of exciting thing that you want to be doing.” Called The November Laws, it will be read Thursday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m.
Next up is 381 Bleecker by Gia Marotta, a product of the University of Texas writing program, who was recommended to Tyrrell by playwright Steven Dietz and acclaimed dramaturge Liz Engleman.
“Gia’s play concerns two sisters and a brother in the 1980s, living on (Greenwich Village’s) Bleecker Street. She’s a dancer-choreographer, he’s a dance critic, and the other sister becomes a lawyer-activist,” says Tyrrell. “And then we see them years later, when the sisters are played by 50-something year-old actors. So you see them young and then older.” From the perspective of 2015, the sisters look back on a time when their brother was battling with AIDS.” 381 Bleecker will be read on Friday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m.
The other young playwright, Gina Montet, is a Floridian with a very Florida story. Titled The Prey, it is “like a knock down-drag out thriller,” claims Tyrrell. “It’s set in a general store, about a husband and wife. She’s pretty, he’s recovering from malaria. The other men are always flirting with her. And murder and mayhem ensue. It would be hard for us to pull off scenically, but it’s a great story, well told.” Its reading is scheduled for Saturday, May 13, at 3 p.m.
Tammy Ryan is remembered by Florida Stage audiences for her play The Music Lesson. Although she is based in Pittsburgh, her new play, Hurricane Colleen, is set on Merritt Island, “where sisters come to spread the ashes of a recently passed sibling and a hurricane hits,” notes Tyrrell. And sure enough, “mayhem ensues.” It will be read at 7:30 p.m., on May 13.
Peter Sagal is known to Florida Stage audiences for his plays Denial and What to Say, but is probably more widely known as the host of National Public Radio’s topical quiz show, Wait! Wait! … Don’t Tell Me. His radio fame makes his play, Most Wanted, the key draw of the festival.
It is about “grandparents who steal their granddaughter, because they don’t like the way their daughter and her husband are raising her. They’re not given enough time to see her,” says Tyrrell, who feels his audience will have no difficulty identifying with the situation. “So they go on the lam with the kid. It’s very quirky and weird, very Coen Brothers.” The reading of Most Wanted, the final event of the New Play Festival, occurs Sunday, May 14, at 3 p.m.
Tyrrell will be directing Most Wanted, as well as The November Laws. Stabile will be at the helm of Hurricane Colleen. David Nail will direct 381 Bleecker and Margaret Ledford directs The Prey. Following the festival, Tyrrell has given himself about two weeks – until June 1 – to announce his selections for next season’s schedule.
If you have enjoyed what Tyrrell has produced in any of his troupes devoted to new work, he feels certain you will be interested in this New Play Festival. “If you have any interest whatsoever in the development of this art form, this will offer you a spectrum of compelling stories, stylistic variations, some of South Florida’s most beloved actors in a process-driven environment that focuses on what new work in American theater is all about,” he says. “It’s also the opportunity to see perhaps the initial reading of a work that could take its place as an important play in the American canon in the years to come. I think for people who understand and love theater, that’s the draw.”
You can see the entire festival with an all-access pass, available for $95, or individual tickets range from $10 to $30. Call 561-297-6124 for details.