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Fluent Magazine is NOW AVAILABLE!

Take a look at Fluent Magazine, the on-line Arts, Culture and Events magazine for the Eastern Panhandle area.

Yours truly is one of the Associate Editors on it, having written reviews of the CATF season and an article on CATF Director Ed Herendeen.

What’s more there are articles on art, poetry, fiction and much more. And you can subscribe for free!

I hope you’ll take a look at it.

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My CATF reviewing project begins this evening…

Elly and I will be seeing the dress rehearsal of David Mamet’s Race at the Studi Theater at Shepherd. This will be the first of 5 plays that I am reviewing over the course of a week to get them on WSHC by Friday.

I’ll also be putting all of the reviews here and on my Facebook page.

– Bill

CATF’s last week

The Contemporary American Theater Festival ends next Monday, August 1st. This is the last chance to get out and see the five great shows in this year’s repertory.

Go HERE for my reviews and more info.

My CATF Theater Reviews Are Up On WSHC, 89.7 FM

I just finished recording 6 “reviews” (1 overall and one for each show) of the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), currently running through August 1st at Shepherd University, over at WSHC Radio. Station manager Todd did the recording and is doing the editing and he tells me they are going up today as separates at the top of each hour.

Apparently, I can also consider myself the WSCH Theater Critic… I just have to tell Todd what I want to cover and he’ll arrange tickets. My wife will like that… more stuff to see!

Anyway, if you are not local to Shepherdstown, WV, or the 50 miles surrounding it, you can hear the live feed at the WSHC Web Site HERE.

CATF’s 20th Season in Shepherdstown – Bill’s Reviews

For the twentieth time since it was conceived by Ed Herendeen, the Contemporary American Theater Festival has opened, bringing with it five new plays (two world premieres) by American playwrights. Bringing audiences from up and down the East Coast, the mid-west, and even from the Pacific states, the CATF does full productions in repertory in three different theaters on the Shepherd University campus. Performances continue on Wednesdays to Sundays from now through August 1st.

This year’s plays include:
Breadcrumbs, a World Premiere by Jennifer Haley
Inana, by Michele Lowe
Lidless, by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
The Eelwax Jesus 3-D Pop Music Show, a World Premiere with book and lyrics by Max Baker and music by Lee Sellers
and
White People, by J. T. Rodgers

There are also extra, and mostly free events, lectures and readings scheduled throughout the Festival. Listings are available at the website, www.catf.org.
Tickets are available now at the Box Office (304-876-3473 or 800-999-CATF).

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Breadcrumbs by Jennifer Haley, Directed by Laura Kepley

Alida is a reclusive writer of fiction diagnosed with dementia, slowly losing her memories. She comes to rely on troubled young woman, Beth, to help complete her final book. The two women wrestle over the nature of language, loneliness, and being, while slipping in and out of Alida’s fading memories.

The story being written is Alida’s own, something she does not want to share or publish, but desperately wants to remember. Beth is Alida’s intellectual opposite, but is committed to helping her, doing research for her, and, as the play progresses, becoming nurse and mother to the older woman.

Helen-Jean Arthur is utterly believable as Alida, convincingly progressing in her mental degeneration. Combined with Eva Kaminsky’s excellent performance as Beth, these two actors bring author Jennifer Haley’s poetic play to us with wry humor, compassion and empathy.

This is a CATF World Premiere, performed at the Studio Theater.
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Inana by Michele Lowe, Directed by Ed Herendeen

Yasin and Shali are an arranged Iraqi couple on their wedding night in London. Yasin is an art curator dedicated to saving ancient artifacts from the cradle of civilization. Shali starts the play sequestered in the bathroom, while Yasin coaxes her to emerge.

The title of the play is taken from a 3,000-year-old, one-armed statue called Inana, an ancient Sumerian goddess, thought to be the greatest statue in Iraq. Yasin feels the need to protect it both from the American Invasion, but also from the destructive rule of Saddam Hussein.

Questions arise as they get to know each other: Why did Yasin marry Shali when he so clearly wanted to remain single? Why has Shali lied to him about her age? What is in the red suitcase that he won’t let her pick up? Why does she refuse to remove her coat?

Barzin Akhavan as Yasin and Zabrina Guevara as Shali give wonderful performances and Ed Herendeen’s staging effectively brings Michele Lowe’s play to a final resolution that can only be called joyful.

The play is presented in the Frank Center.

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Lidless by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Directed by Ed Herendeen

What if something that happened 15 years ago comes back into your life today?

Lidless is the story of a former Guantanamo Bay interrogator who, after years of physically and psychologically torturing detainees, goes home and attempts to forget her violent past. When a former detainee shows up and demands half her liver as compensation for the physical and psychological wounds inflicted during their interrogations, she’s forced to deal with her history… and a family who suddenly feels they don’t know her.

A highly physical, theatrical and emotional charged show, Lidless takes a small group of characters… the former interrogator, her husband, their 15-year old daughter, her physician friend who served in Guantanamo with her 15 years ago, and the former detainee…and effectively entangles their relationships as it explores the results of guilt and omission.

The play, set in a future where the Guantanamo prison is no more, asks if the price of our national political amnesia will be paid by our next generation–the daughters and sons who were never there? The answer makes Lidless a play for our time.

Exceptional performances by Eva Kaminsky, Barzin Akhavan and Reema Zayman highlight the production in the smaller Studio Theater.

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The Eelwax Jesus 3-D Pop Music Show, a World Premiere with book and lyrics by Max Baker and music by Lee Sellers, directed by Max Baker, musical direction by Lee Sellers.

Is it a musical? Is it a rock concert? Is it a descendent of sixties happenings? Is it an opportunity to win a new electric toaster?

Those are the questions you might ask yourself when trying to explain this eclectic production at The Frank Center.

Eelwax Jesus is an underground rock band created by Baker and Sellers around ten years ago (Sellers writes the music, Baker the words) and they have played in various New York clubs. In this show Baker has wrapped their songs with a plot set twenty or thirty years in the future when monkey pox and other diseases keep people from going outside without gas masks. Since they are trapped indoors, they await the Eelwax Jesus 3-D Pop Music Show, headlined by Mr. Shine (played by Kurt Zischke, who does a dance piece I can’t talk about on college radio).

We get to join them, and a woman who spends most of the production ironing handkerchiefs somewhere in the 1950s, for an evening of music, video projections, and one or two surprises.

You may not understand it, but you won’t be bored. And the music is terrific. I especially liked a song called “Tricky Tricky” which was accompanied by videos animating old Eadweard Muybridge photos.

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White People, by J. T. Rodgers, directed by Ed Herendeen

Three monologues in search of a culture?

J. T. Rogers’ play shuffles between long and wordy monologues by three archetypical Caucasian characters: a New York College Professor, a St. Louis Insurance Executive and a former cheerleader and mother of a disabled child in North Carolina. Each has what seems to be an archetypal view of non-white people that becomes more revealing of specific occurrences that have changed their world and their futures.

Racism is everywhere here, sometimes in a very subtle manner and sometimes in very strong language. None of these characters would, of course, consider themselves racist as they describe the hip-hop language of an African-American student, the clothes worn to work by lower level employees, or the dot on an Indian Doctor’s forehead. But with all three we see the grip they have on their national culture weakening. Their birthright has disappeared.

The three actors, Kurt Zischke as the executive, Lee Sellers as the professor and Margot White as the former cheerleader are able to hold their characterizations together as we hear their thoughts in fragments. The fragments build to a distinctive and somewhat disturbing ending which keeps your attention. Ed Herendeen’s direction has focused on the characters and their direct relationship with the audience, which pays off quite well.

This play is in a very small space in the new Contemporary Arts Center and seating is limited. Make reservations now.
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Here’s where I’ll be at 6:30 Tonite…

A notice from the Contemporary American Theater Festival:

SNEAK PREVIEW!
The Eelwax Jesus 3-D Pop Music Show

June 14th • One night only! • 6:30pm – 8:30pm

Join us for an evening with Eelwax Jesus for a concert with music from the show. It’s guaranteed to put you in a significantly better mood than the one you are in now!

Entler Hotel 
129 East German Street, Shepherdstown, WV
(corner of German and Princess Streets)

$10 at the door or $5 at the door, 
if you show us your “tweet” about the event.

Includes FREE Hotdogs & Moonpies!

Some thoughts on the CATF and Theatre in general..

This has been an interesting summer season. Elly and I have seen all the CATF plays, both of the staged readings (presented at Full Circle), had Breakfast with Ed, attended two lectures, and, in general, have done about as much participation in the Festival as an attendee is allowed. I am left with a couple of thoughts.

1. The Age of the Audience. You can’t help but notice that the great majority of audience members at the CATF are “grayhairs.” This, of course, includes me, a 63-year old. While there are some student attendees and some younger associates of mine who ushered in order to see plays, even the ushers were mostly older folks.

There are two reasons for the audience’s age. The first is the cost of tickets. For working or retired adults, this cost isn’t too bad (compare it with theatre costs in D.C. or – shudder – NYC). For students and kids who work locally for $8.00 an hour (or less), this is not an affordable entertainment… certainly not when compared with films.

The second is marketing. The focus on CATF’s marketing seems to be toward its existing market… mail, e-mail, off-season promotional events… and that market gets older every year. The case is not being made to younger audiences on why they should be saving their pennies for tickets next year. Development of a younger audience requires a serious focus on both youth economics and youth subject matter considerations. While we often see plays by younger writers, we rarely see plays on “younger subjects” (a play like “1001” two seasons ago was the kind of play that had a really young message, relating to the mideast crisis effecting younger lives.)

Don’t get me wrong, the plays and subject matter this year were very fulfilling to me as an audience member. But I will state again that I am 63 and am at the “looking back” point of living. While the Festival satisfies this need, it limits its focus on younger issues.

2. The relationship with Shepherdstown. Elly and I often say that the CATF was one of the reasons we moved to Shepherdstown. It’s true. Part of that is our previous lives as New Yorkers or a Provincetonians… we always like living in communities that support the arts that we went to college for and committed large parts of our working lives to.

This year, however, I noticed much less tightness in the Town/Festival relationship. No big signs in the center of town showing each day’s performances, for instance. Now I realize that these are usually on Shepherd U. property, but downtown is downtown… it is the two blocks that tourists and other visitors always come to, to eat or shop or just walk up and down the street looking at our aging architecture.

And take the presentation of the staged readings at Full Circle Theater, a new, but very active Community Theatre now in its third year. While mentioning the Full Circle location, address and phone number in the program for the CATF productions, there was no press release support, no advertising, no posters… no mention of either the readings or location on the regular web site of CATF OR Full Circle Theater. I took it upon myself to send announcements to the Visitor’s Center and other local agencies, but I can’t help think how much better this would have been if promoted in advance by the producing organization… both as a way of getting MORE community involvement and as a way of attracting a younger audience for whom FREE is a magic word.

I don’t know what the attendance stats are for this season, but given the general economy, I won’t be surprised if there was limited growth over previous seasons. This, of course, is outside the control of both the producing organization and Shepherdstown itself. But it is clearly a time for focus and changes in approach.

CATF and Full Circle Theater Together Again

Last night there was a second CATF staged reading performed at the Full Circle Theater instead of at Shepherd U. Two weeks ago we had one of these as well at Full Circle and it marked a first time that CATF has combined with another theater group during its season to present something.

from the light booth...

from the light booth...

I was in the light booth turning the stage lights on and off, and that’s where I viewed the reading. Pretty good seat, actually.

Michael Weller’s new play, SIDE EFFECTS, was the reading and the performers were, for a second time as well, Anderson Matthews and Lee Roy Rogers. Like the play 50 WORDS, which is Weller’s piece in the current group of five plays in the CATF Summer Season, this is a piece that explores the relationship of a married couple whose side affairs change their lives whether they want them changed or not. There was humor and drama both here, and, although this play seems to need a lot more polishing, it was an interesting evening.

This morning, at the Shepherd Wellness Center gym where I go to exercise several times a week, I was sitting in the lobby with my post-exercise cup of coffee, when Lee Roy Rogers came in to use the facility. I had a nice little conversation with her about last night’s performance and the previous one and told her how much it meant to all of us to have this connection between CATF and Full Circle.

We discovered that we were both disappointed at the lack of promotion for the readings (we only had around 45 people last night, about 20 less than 2 weeks ago… we could seat 90). We agreed that it would be nice to have more of these readings… perhaps one every week. Maybe next year.

The CATF has about a week and a half left in it’s season and if you haven’t been to one of the plays, click on their website over in the addresses on the left side of this blog and get a reservation. Full Circle will be getting into it’s Fall Season really soon as well.

Tomorrow Night (July 28) is another Free Staged Reading from the CATF at Full Circle Theater.

I can’t tell you how frustrated I am that neither the Contemporary American Theater Festival  nor Full Circle Theater have put the information up on their web sites (the only place it is listed is in the current CATF season program), but tomorrow night at 7:00 PM there is another FREE staged reading of a new play at Full Circle’s theater at 113 S. Princess Street.

Two weeks ago there was another similarly unpublicized reading of a Steve Dietz play that was just wonderful (and played to a pretty good sized house). I believe tomorrow they are reading from a new Michael Weller play. Weller is the author of FIFTY WORDS, a great script at this year’s festival, and I would look forward to a reading of one of his pieces.

Get to the theater at least 15 minutes early if you want a good seat.

For information you can call the Contemporary American Theater Festival at 800-999-CATF (2283). Full Circle’s phone number is 304-268-7798. Tell them you read about it in Under The LobsterScope!

Potomac Stages reviews the CATF

This set of reviews was just published on line by Potomac Stages in DC.

The fact that Shepherd University is across the border in a neighboring state makes it seem like a long way to go for theater, even for great theater. But it is actually only 65 miles from the Beltway to the idyllic site of the Contemporary American Theatre Festival at West Virginia’s Shepherd University. That makes it close enough to drive out for one or two shows (they run matinees as well as evening shows on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday). Or, it is far enough to make the trip a special getaway if you stay overnight in order to see the four or five plays they stage in repertory each summer.

Either way, a summer visit to Shepherdstown is rapidly becoming a tradition for theatergoers from throughout the Potomac Region and beyond. At one performance we were flanked by audience members from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin.

Here’s a look at this year’s festival:

CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

I disagree with the reviewer on the second act of Yankee Tavern… so far it’s my favorite play of the five… but note, I still have two more to see this weekend.

CATF and Full Circle Theater combined forces last night…

Staged reading from my point of view in the light boothCATF did it’s staged reading of Steven Dietz’s SHOOTING STAR at Full Circle last night, and it was really nice.

Dietz’s play, which I guess is in progress and which CATF is considering for a future season (they did a staged reading of this year’s YANKEE TAVERN last season), was funny and hit home with folks like me who remember the 70s.

And we also got to have another evening with Anderson Matthews, my favorite actor at the CATF this year, accompanied by Lee Roy Rogers in the female role.

Dietz’s play deals with the chance meeting of former lovers at a snowed in airport some 35 years after their relationship ended. Interesting premise… and it offers many opportunities for unexpected interactions.

There were about 60 people in the audience, which, for Full Circle is damned close to a full house.

There will be another staged reading of another play at Full Circle next Tuesday night at 7:00 PM. And it’s FREE.

Looking for a great Theater Event on Tuesday Night? Here’s a Free one:

Shepherdstown, WV – The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) will be offering a free staged reading of  Steven Dietz’s new play SHOOTING STAR on Tuesday (July 13) at 7 PM. And they are having it at our very own Full Circle Theatre,  113 Princess Street in Shepherdstown.

I’ll be up in the booth running lights and I just can’t wait for this one. We saw Dietz’s YANKEE TAVERN on Friday Night at the CATF and met the author… he is a great writer with around 30 plays to his credit.

I suggest you get there at least 1/2 hour early as the house will probably fill up (we’re only a 90 seat theater) and you won’t want to miss this one.

Breakfast with Ed this morning…

I can’t do much blog writing this morning because Elly and I are going to “Breakfast with Ed”, an event that goes on, at a ticket price of $20.00 a head, at the CATF, where a contained group of audience members gets to sit around over coffee with Ed Herendeen, Artistic Director of the CATF, and talk about the festival.

We say “Farragut North” last night and went to a post show party at the Entler Hotel in Shepherdstown. Linda and Cecil, our theatre friends from the D.C area, have seen all five of this season’s plays now… Elly and I will see the remaining three over the next two weekends…and they are meeting us at this morning’s affair.

This is something I look forward to. In 19 years, Ed Herendeen has built the CATF ferom a good idea into a Nationally Recognized Event. He is a real hero.

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Update:

Ed Herendeen at far right

Just got back from “Breakfast with Ed”. Wonderful discussions on how plays are selected, how the CATF came into being, etc. I strongly recommend that anyone buying tickets to the plays also goes to one of these.

Note: they are limited to about 20 people. so get your reservations in early.

An Amazing Way to Start a Theater Festival!

Elly and I, along with Linda and Cecil, attended the Opening Night performance of Steven Dietz’s Yankee Tavern, a two act play which starts out as a comedy and leaves you, by the end of the last scene of the second act, believing in all kinds of conspiracy theories relating to 9/11, the disappearance of Saudi princes, the mysteries of why Tower 7 imploded and who planned the attack and wrote a sealed and hidden plan three days before and put it….

Oh you can go on and on and it gets more and more caught up in the rantings of an old man, the mysteries of a quiet guy in sunglasses who sits silently and buys a beer for an invisible friend, a young bartender working on his PhD in International Studies who gets caught up in the conspiracy theories surrounding everyone and a young woman and fiancee to the young bartender who sees her upcoming wedding falling apart…

And all of that doesn’t explain what is REALLY happening, nor does it keep YOU from getting more and more involved in the mystery.

And it’s FUNNY!

We sat next to Steven Dietz, the author, who occasionally made some notes in a little book… dialogue changes, I guess… but he was laughing just as much as we were… especially in the first act (as I said, in the first act you think it is a straightforward comedy… it’s the second act that drags you into the mystery and conspiracy of the evening.)

The cast included Eric Sheffer Stevens, who played Adam, the young bartender; Anne Marie Nest (who we saw in Stick Fly last year, which was also directed by Liesl Tommy); John Lescault as Palmer, the mysterious man in sunglasses with the invisible pal; and, best of all, Anderson Matthews as Ray, who sees ghosts wandering the rooms of the hotel upstairs, believes all conspiracy theories (and makes sure you hear about all of them), and tries to keep the couple together.

Matthews is a hugely successful character actor… we saw him in a couple of things last year including the wonderful Pig Farm. He takes us from rumor to rumor with a belief in an unreal world that he HAS to share. I could watch him play this part all night long and NEVER get tired of the character,

Ms. Tommy, the Director, interpreted the author’s work in a distinctly clear way… but there is one thing she did that really stood out with me and made another aspect of Yankee Tavern even more real. Ray gives us ongoing descriptions of the “ghosts upstairs”, including Adam’s late father Vince and many others, who wander from room to room spending their time talking to, of all people, Ray. The second act has a couple of scene changes in the bar which indicate a passing of time and a change of characters present. Ms. Tommy has the props shifted and furniture moved by a set of interns dressed in black who are lit from below in a mostly darkened set so that they look like ghosts moving all around. Yes, we can see the scenic change and, yes it could have been done in complete blackout… they don’t take too long… but Tommy makes us SEE the GHOSTS that Ray has been talking about… if only for a second or two. Who cares if it’s a scene change? This is an inventive piece of directing.

OK, getting to the end of this… if you have a chance to get over to the CATF this month, I can flat out recommend that you see Yankee Tavern. It’s great.

Tonite we start our CATF experience.

We’re meeting our friends Linda and Cecil for the opening night of “Yankee Tavern” by Steven Dietz, billed as a “fierce and funny dramatic thriller.”

There’s an opening night party following which, weather permitting, is outdoors and crowded if last year is any indication.

This opening is at the Frank Center at Shepherd, U, which is the biggest house. There may be some opening night tickets left.
Call 800-999-CATF (2283) to find out.

CATF Begins This Weekend

Linda and Cecil, our friends from Silver Spring, are coming this week for CATF (we’ll be going to a couple of the shows with them, although they are coming in early for at least one of the previews and we’re waiting for the Opening Night on Friday.)

We’ll be seeing :
FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau Willimon

YANKEE TAVERN by Steven Dietz

FIFTY WORDS by Michael Weller

THE HISTORY OF LIGHT by Eisa Davis

DEAR SARA JANE by Victor Lodato

As most of you who read this blog know, Linda and I have worked on theatre productions together for years… first at Laurel Mill Playhouse and then at the Greenbelt Arts Center. Cecil is one of the hidden hands behind those fabulous Russians at the Synetic Theater whose Dracula opens at the Rosslyn Spectrum in September.

Elly and I always tell people that the CATF is why we moved to Shepherdstown, so we didn’t have to drive all the way in and could attend all the free lectures and other things. Indeed, it WAS a part of the reason.

If you are coming into the Shepherdstown, WV, area this month (into the first week of August) there are probably still tickets available. Check out their site at http://catf.org. It certainly shouldn’t be missed… and it’s only a little over an hour from DC or Baltimore… and just 45 minutes from Frederick.

Fourth of July – the beginning of our favorite month around Shepherdstown, WV

It’s the 4th today, and Elly and I are both looking for things that will fill our day. We can go to the Shepherdstown Parade and picnic, or ride over to the Charles Town Farmers Market, or go to a movie (although a quick look at the schedules shows nothing we are interested in during the afternoon.)

This evening we will be going over to the Antietam Battleground in Sharpsburg for Fireworks at Antietamthe big concert and fireworks where my Daughter, Penny, and her kids, my son Buddy ad his friend Rachel and her son, and Elly and I will sit out on the lawn and watch and picnic.

At the end of the coming week the CATF (Contemporary American Theater Festival) opens at Shepherd University. Our friends Linda and Cecil are joining us for the opening week and we’re sure looking foward to five plays, a couple of Ed Herendeenlectures and the Breakfast with Ed (Herendeen), the head of the CATF. This covers our next two weekends (the Festival ends the first week in August).

There are lots of other things going on here this month… the Goose Route Dance Festival, 4 Farmers Markets in Shepherdstown, The Fire Department Carnival, art exhibits, etc. If you get a chance to come to our town during this month, expect it to be crowded with people from all over the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions and beyond.