PLAYING FOR KEEPS 


For proof that the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's November 2003 PlayFest succeeded in its mission to hunt down and cultivate promising new scripts, one need look no farther than the stage of the OSF's mighty Margeson Theater. The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, a comedy that was workshopped at that inaugural PlayFest, just wrapped a well-received performance run in the Margeson, and another, Trapezium: A Knightly Farce, moves in this weekend – at the very same time that the sophomore PlayFest is beginning its pursuit of NEXT year's box-office hits. (Both milestones are celebrated with a $55-ticket performance and party at 7 p.m. this Friday at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Call 407-447-1700, ext. 1, or visit www.shakespearefest.org.)

The 14-month gap between installments may mean that PlayFest technically sat out 2004, but it's also ensured a more comfortable January time frame for the event (whose full title is The Orlando Festival of New Plays). With that increased elbowroom comes wider latitude to spotlight the efforts of emerging and established playwrights. Expect more of everything, says Director of New Play Development Eric Hissom – from the fresh interpretations of literary masterpieces down to line-by-line issuances that will be accessible in e-mail form in the festival's lounge.

"There `are` just about twice as many guest theaters involved," Hissom says of PlayFest '05. "There's about twice as many plays. One of `our` core missions is to be a port in the storm for people who are working on new stuff."

As before, the offerings fall into the categories of fully produced one-acts, slightly less elaborate workshops and even humbler staged readings. Just prepare to be liberal in your definition of the phrase "new play," as this festival apes its predecessor in allowing several entries that have already been read or performed a few times locally – mostly (but not entirely) under the auspices of the Orlando International Fringe Festival.

"We're in a very inclusive mode," Hissom says. "To me, if they haven't been published, if they haven't had off-Broadway productions, and if the playwright says, 'I'm rewriting it from what I did at the Fringe – I'm still working on it,' then it's there."

The flexible criteria stem from what sounds like an essential paradox in the PlayFest agenda: To introduce audiences to untested works, the event has to give them just enough familiar material to get them there in the first place. OSF must be confident that the formula can continue to work, as Hissom says a five-year plan is being drawn up to secure PlayFest's continued health and prosperity. And for the theatergoers who may require some extra coaxing into taking part, he has a well-aimed question:

"If you're a theater fan, why aren't you a fan of new plays that are being written now – by living playwrights – and that may likely have more relevance?

"We want to get the word out that new plays are cool."

Note: All events are at Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Most require a one-time-purchase $5 PlayFest button.

R = reading
SR = staged reading
W = workshop
O = one-act
SE = special event

An Afternoon with Nilo Cruz – Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) reads from his work and explains his creative methodology. 1 p.m. Jan. 22; Studio C; $50; SE

Alas Poor Yorick – The first of two PlayFest entries that expand upon the traditional story line of Hamlet, this one is described as a "suspenseful prequel" written by Gary Seger and directed by Eric Zivot. 8:45 p.m. Jan. 17, 1 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio B; free with button; SR

Beauty of the Father – Playwright and PlayFest visitor Nilo Cruz sees his family drama interpreted as a staged reading by director Eric Hissom. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22; Goldman; free with button; SR

Codes – The writings of Shakespeare are the relationship glue for a director (Eric Hissom) and an actress (Sarah Hankins) in John Minigan's two-character piece. 8:30 p.m. Jan. 16 in Margeson; 6:15 p.m. Jan. 20 in Studio D; free with button; SR

Connections Seminar – Learn to unlock the creative potential of your subconscious from playwright Arlene Hutton. 1 p.m. Jan. 16; Studio C; $50; SE

Driven to Abstraction – Pulitzer Prize nominee D.W. Gregory (The Good Daughter) authored this story of an art student obsessed with Picasso – a play receiving its first professional production by the Women Playwrights' Initiative. 4:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 18, 9:15 p.m. Jan. 21, 3:15 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio D; $7 with button; W

Driving Miss Cherry Blossom – Playwright Eric Pinder says he's resisted the urge to dramatically alter his two-character East-meets-West tale since its premiere last May at the Orlando International Fringe Festival. A handful of new scenes and some light editing hopefully won't dull the effect of this funny, literate and touching show. 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 8 p.m. Jan. 16, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 6 p.m. Jan. 22; Studio D; $10 with button; O

Every Christmas Story Ever Told – Philip Nolen, Eric Hissom and Michael Carleton – the cast of OSF's fondly remembered Art – perform an exhaustive, 90-minute rundown of holiday traditions in a comic romp compiled by writers Carleton, John Alvarez and Jim Fitzgerald. OSF Artistic Director Jim Helsinger directs. 1:30 p.m. Jan. 16 in Studio D; 6:15 p.m. Jan. 19 in Goldman; free with button; SR

Fe or Male – The Terpsichore Collective (Fringe 2004's Solo Face) workshops a five-character musical surveying the lot of today's women, as seen through the eyes of playwright (and Terpsichore co-founder) Anna DeMers. Noon Jan. 15, 9 p.m. Jan. 18, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 21, 12:45 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio D; $10 with button; W

Germinous Seeds – The Invisible Arts Project's Chad Lewis interprets writer David Rush's study of the relationship between Herman Melville (Todd Schuck) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Jim Bruner). 3:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 9:15 p.m. Jan. 18; Margeson; free with button; SR

Go Left RightOrlando Weekly theater critic Al Pergande penned this comedy about a first date shared by two people with very different political leanings and behavioral disorders. Director Seth Kubersky draws two-thirds of his cast from his recent staging of The Rocky Horror Show at Theatre Downtown. 1:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21, 4 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio B; $8 with button; O

Hunting the Basilisk – The second-ever reading of Fulbright scholar J Shafer's historically minded script boasts a new director (Jennifer Tipton), new cast and certain textual modifications. Originally sponsored by the UCF Women's Studies Program, the play lets us listen in on four "powerful and entertaining" women trapped in the great beyond. 5:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 1 p.m. Jan. 22; Margeson; free with button; SR

The Jungle Book – A young-people's reading of the Kipling favorite, as adapted by the late Tim Kelly and directed by Nancy Stuart. Noon Jan. 22; Studio B; free (no button required); R

The Last Hanging in Pike County – Margaret Nolan directs a true story of forbidden love between the notoriously feuding Hatfield and McCoy families. California-based playwright Janice Kennedy is a descendant of the Hatfield clan. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 20; Studio B; free with button; SR

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Richard Width wrote this adaptation of Jules Verne's speculative fiction, performed here by a solo-flying Stephan Jones under the direction of Michael Carleton. 8:15 p.m. Jan. 15, 5:15 p.m. Jan. 16, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 17, 9 p.m. Jan. 18; Goldman; $10 with button; W

Living Newspapers – Students from Trinity Prep and Apopka High School perform self-written plays based on current news stories. Noon and 1:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 6 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio D; free with button; SE

Me Me Me Me – It's the third go-'round for this perpetually evolving one-woman show, in which musician/poet Amy Steinberg embodies four sides of the female psyche. 4 p.m. Jan. 15, 8:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 9 p.m. Jan. 19, 6 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio B; $10 with button; O

Minority Status Quo – The coming-out of an Oregon teenager is the subject of Matt Russell's drama, presented as a staged reading by Fringe Festival regulars DNA Productions. 9:15 p.m. Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio D; free with button; SR

The Night They Kidnapped Barrymore – Humphrey Bogart (Mark Ferrera) kidnaps the corpse of John Barrymore (Joe Candelora) in a piece contributed by Canadian playwright Mark Leiren-Young. Director Arlen Bensen is no stranger to PlayFest, having helmed 2003's The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge. 9:15 p.m. Jan. 17, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 21; Goldman; free with button; SR

Nirvanov – Testing the limits of the "new play" concept, director/writer David Lee's conflation of Chekhov and Cobain is celebrating its 10th anniversary of challenging audiences in Florida and New York. The cast for this production is almost identical to the one that interpreted the moody musicale last July at the Studio Theatre. 8:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 18, 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 8:30 p.m. Jan. 23; Goldman; $10 with button; W

Nothing Happened – Theatre Downtown presents the debut of John DiDonna's inquiry into the psychology of abuse, as explored by a cast that includes TD regulars Sarah French, Christian Kelty, Peni Lotoza, Monica Travers and Kimberly Luffman. 1 p.m. Jan. 16, 8:45 p.m. Jan. 21; Studio B; free with button; SR

Ophelia's Mother – What we didn't see in Hamlet, we witness in this parallel narrative starring the mother of Shakespeare's enduring madwoman. The work of collaborative playwrights Suzanne Kehde and Jean Pickering is shepherded by director Paula Rossman. 6:15 p.m. Jan. 18, 5:15 p.m. Jan. 23; Margeson; free with button; SR

The Pharaoh's New Robes – The search for perfection is the theme of writer April-Dawn Gladu's Egyptian spin on The Emperor's New Clothes, extensively rewritten since it was read before an audience of kids and their parents at the inaugural PlayFest. 3 p.m. Jan. 15, 3:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Jan. 22, 3:30 p.m. Jan. 23; Goldman; $4 (no button required); W

Playwrights Panel – Visiting playwrights (including Anne Nelson and Arlene Hutton) discuss their art and answer audience queries. 4 p.m. Jan. 22; Margeson; free with button; SE

Pocahontas – Young audiences are the target of this reading of a historical adaptation by John O'Hara. Noon Jan. 15; Studio B; free (no button required); R

Prisoners of Love – Both expanded and fine-tuned since its debut at Fringe 2004, this scab-pulling comedy allows writer/performers Elena Day and Andy Sapora to apply their clowning skills to the subject of rocky relationships. 5 p.m. Jan. 16, 6:45 p.m. Jan. 19, 4 p.m. Jan. 22, 8 p.m. Jan. 23; Studio B; $10 with button; O

The Progeny – Mary Shelley brainstorms her Frankenstein in this contest-winning play written by Ayla Harrison and presented by the UCF Conservatory Theatre. 3 p.m. Jan. 16, 6 p.m. Jan. 22; Studio B; free with button; SR

Quincunx – His Trapezium is one of the PlayFest's most notable page-to-stage successes, and now playwright/crossword-puzzle writer Henry Rathvon tries to extend his winning streak with an Elizabethan farce directed by Chris Jorie. With OSF regulars Timothy Williams, Sarah Mathews and Patrick Flick. 6:15 p.m. Jan. 20, 9:15 p.m. Jan. 21, 12:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23; Goldman; $10 with button; W

The Rape of Lucrece – Writer Jack Lundgren reads his adaptation of Shakespeare's 15,000-word assault poem, which Lundgren has rendered as a screenplay to stimulate discussion of the work's viability in various media. 4:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 12:15 p.m. Jan. 16, 9:15 p.m. Jan. 20, 12:15 p.m. Jan. 23; Goldman; $5 (students $1) with button; W

Robinson Crusoe and the Island of Despair – Writer Jim Helsinger and director John DiDonna join forces for a new adaptation of Defoe's classic story. Actor Denis McLernon has the stage all to himself, continuing OSF's tradition of one-man takes on literary perennials. 6:15 p.m. Jan. 17, 1:30 p.m. Jan. 22; Studio B; free with button; SR

The Royal Baker – Playwrights' Round Table presents John Goring's new comedy about a cockney pickpocket in the court of Charles II. Favorite faces in the cast include Randy Molnar, Marty Stonerock and Simon Needham. 8:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 8:45 p.m. Jan. 19; Studio D; free with button; SR

Seagulls in a Cherry Tree – The Disney company tries to bring Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard to the screen in William Missouri Downs' comedic homage to all things Anton. Between them, playwright Downs (a National Playwrights Award winner) and director Tom Joyner hold experience in everything from university professorship to sitcom writing to comics publishing. Noon Jan. 15, 9 p.m. Jan. 19; Goldman; free with button; SR

Shatter the Sky – Writer Sean Christopher Lewis submits a contemporary retelling of The Oresteia. Director Rob Anderson's group Invictus T.C. (of 2003's The Sandman Says Goodnight) applies elements of hip-hop and spoken word to the story's scenarios of matricide and incest … among other Eminem-approved hobbies. 7 p.m. Jan. 15, 9:15 p.m. Jan. 20; Studio B; free with button; SR

Theater Verité Seminar – The shaping of real-life events into stage drama is the subject of this educational session taught by playwright Anne Nelson. 4 p.m. Jan. 16; Studio C; $50; SE

Theatrical Adaptation Seminar – OSF's Jim Helsinger teaches aspiring playwrights to turn classic literature into theatrical gold. 1 p.m. Jan. 15; Margeson; $50; SE

Vine Theatre One-Acts – The Vine Theatre's "Love and Marriage" trilogy includes new, romantically oriented works by celebrated playwrights Anne Nelson (The Guys) and Arlene Hutton (Last Train to Nibroc). Locals George Alex Livings and Johnathan Hickey round out the roster of contributors. 3:15 p.m. Jan. 15, 6:15 p.m. Jan. 17, 9:15 p.m. Jan. 20, 3 p.m. Jan. 22; Studio D; $8 with button; W

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