Blog Archives

Some words about this blog and me…

I often get e-mail from folks out there in the web world who want to know about Under The LobsterScope and why I keep it going and put a major part of each day into it. It is for that reason that I’ve decided to say a few things that will clarify my relationship with UTL and, perhaps, encourage you to get involved as a commentor.

I started this blog through another editing site, Blogspot, during the 2004 presidential election year. I did several thousand entries over five years or so and then something happened. For some reason, someone got into my blog at Blogspot and did some fairly confusing stuff leaving it impossible for me to post on. I cancelled my relationship with Blogspot and over 4000 posts ago I started UTL up again through WordPress where it remains today.

While I was interested in electoral politics (originally in Maryland before my wife and I moved to West Virginia), my biggest interest at the time – and even now, a little – was in theatre directing. I got to do a couple of musicals and some plays at local community theatres and spent a lot of time attending theatre events (one of the reasons we moved to the Shepherdstown, WV, area was to be closer to the Contemporary American Theater Festival which we attend every year.

I also have a great interest in the visual arts… Elly’s background is as a painter and visual artist. That means heading off to galleries locally, in DC and other places. Add to the visual stuff an interest in music and poetry and dance. The arts in general are very important parts of my life.

As to politics, during the past couple of years beginning with the election of Barack Obama, I have become more and more an active Democrat and have felt it is my obligation, since this is a published item read by thousands of people a week, to expose the really awful things Republicans and extreme conservatives are trying to pull off.

Several of you have also noted that I often expose dangerous things being done by religious organizations. As you probably know I am a non-believer… an atheist, a humanist… and cannot understand how people with developed intellectual capacity can believe this stuff. I have no problem exposing things that might make readers see what I see. I am, however, as opposed to pushing my atheism on others as I am of them pushing their religious beliefs on me.

Now that my current age and health keeps me in the house most of the days of the week, I have much time to read other web sites, magazines and other publications, many of which I quote or comment on in the blog. On an average day I do at least 5 posts.

I have established some regular features in this blog that I hope you enjoy. Cartoon(s) of the Week is the one people think of first when I talk about regular features. I have been interested in editorial cartoons for many years. During the current election I have regularly been posting poll results which I see by the search term roundups many of you are looking for. And, of course, there is my regular posting of celebrity obituaries.

If there is any kind of post I do that you would like to see become a regular feature, just let me know and it’s likely to happen.

– Bill

 

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.

My brief reviews of the CATF plays this season

It is the 22nd season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival and I’ve been reviewing the five plays that go on throughout July for WSHC.

Here are transcripts of those reviews.

Gidion’s Knot by Johnna Adams. World Premiere. Directed by Ed Herendeen

What begins as an elementary school parent-teacher conference rapidly becomes a volatile conflict between a distressed mother and a reticent fifth grade teacher. The problem? Why did Gidion come home on a Friday with a note suspending him from school? As his story progresses, the women assemble the elements of Gidion’s behavior like a complex jigsaw puzzle.

 
As we descend toward the unexpected and painful outcome, the roles that a teacher and a mother play in a child’s life are revealed in an interaction of deception, vehemence and accountability. The audience follows this conflict and learns in the removal of layer after layer of information the actions leading to the fate of a fifth grader.

 
I particularly liked Margaret McKowen’s set that turned the entire performance space and audience area into an actual schoolroom. Director Ed Herendeen has children going through the classroom, using lockers in the audience lobby area, and planting the usual “turn your cellphones off” instruction into a teacher’s admonition to a student.

Joey Parsons, as the teacher, and Robin Walsh, as the mother, give intense and involving performances, aided by playwright Johnna Adams’ stylized dialogue.
“Gidion’s Knot” is an emotional and dangerous exploration into the freedom of expression.

The Exceptionals by Bob Clyman. Directed by Tracy Brigden

Not too far in the future, two mothers from very different backgrounds, face choices that are to be made for their extraordinarily gifted sons, the results of a genetic experiment in a fertility program. The question is how far will ordinary people go to provide opportunities for exceptional children? Is it a competition among parents? This is something that Gwen and Allie, and her husband Tom, must come to terms with in the course of the play.

They are steered through this process by Claire, a program manager for the program, who tries to get them to both understand the education process that the children could be going through and to give up part of the parental shelter of their sons. It is not an easy progression.

Director Tracy Brigden has taken the characters developed by playwright Bob Clyman through a series of duo and trio scenes until everyone comes together with a resolute view of where the future will be. The play is about a half an hour longer than it needs to be, but this is the kind of thing that benefits playwrights at the CATF, where they can edit and rewrite as part of the “new play” process.

The Exceptionals is worth the effort of the talent involved and is certainly worth the participation of the audience.

Barcelona by Bess Wohl. Directed by Charles Morey.

What happens when an intoxicated American girl goes home with an aggressive Spaniard for a one-night stand in the shadows of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous cathedral in Barcelona?  After meeting in a bar and falling into a funny and lusty meeting of cross-cultural opposites, Irene and Manuel make us laugh party with them — until the party changes into a dangerous and political lesson in truth.

Two people who have met as surface level characters reveal more and more about themselves and their real lives discovering things that push them apart rather than bring them closer. Partly it is what it means to be an American in a Spain that has reason to hate Americans. Partly it is the very personal lives of each of the two characters that redefine their needs for the other.

Bess Wohl has written a fantastic play with the best interactive dialog I have heard this season. Every year there is one CATF play that becomes my favorite and this year it is, hands down, Barcelona. Charles Morey’s direction is the kind I think of as perfect… the director is invisible. Things happen as if they are actually being lived.

Anne Marie Nest and Jason Manuel Olazabel are exceptional actors and certainly, along with playwright and director, deserved the standing ovation they received from an enthusiastic audience.

In A Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute. Directed by Ed Herendeen

Bobby and Betty, a brother and sister, get together in the woods to clean out her cottage to show to a new tenant. At least this is what Bobby thinks as he wonders why his University Dean sister can’t have her husband and kids around helping her… and why she would want the brother she has been estranged from for years to assist with the packing?

Is this a cottage Betty and her husband own? Or is it a place her husband knows nothing about? Is there a student who has been living here having an affair with Betty? Every lie leads to the revelation of another truth as Bobby gets to the bottom of Betty’s story. And what will he do when he learns all of her secrets?

LaBute’s play is about the lies people tell themselves and each other, and about the way lies can become increasingly vicious and escalate to a point that is out of control. The play exposes the desperation of a woman who realizes she has aged past her early attractiveness and become more or less “transparent” to men.

The set for this stormy night in the woods is spectacular, designed by David M. Barber. It focuses the audience in the very large Frank Center into the confined world of two actors in a country cabin. Johanna Day, as Betty, and Joey Collins, as Bobby, are steered through LaBute’s often violent language by Director Ed Herendeen with an inspired verbal choreography.

As the dialogue says: “the truth it hurts.. don’t it?”

Captors by Evan M. Wiener. Directed by Ed Herendeen

In 1960, a group of Israeli Intelligence agents capture escaped Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires and confine him for 10 days in a hidden safe house. Eichmann, the world’s most wanted war criminal and the architect of the Holocaust, has spent 15 years in Argentina leading an assumed life. His captors now want to transport him to Jerusalem, by his own will, to be publicly tried.

The play focuses on two men: Eichmann, the “Good German” who was following orders and Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent and artist burdened with bringing evil to justice. The Nazi uses charm and sophistication, lies and compliments, to ease out of the captive situation. Malkin’s main objective is to disguise the prisoner so he can board an Israeli plane leaving Buenos Aires without being discovered. He must also convince Eichmann to sign a release saying he leaves of his own free will… something that seems impossible.

The conflict between Malkin, his associates and Eichmann –  between Jews and the murderer of Jews – is haunting and challenging. Combine this with Malkin’s jumping thirty years ahead to write a book about the events with a  co-author who seeks to clarify the actual facts, and you have a complex dramatic presentation which will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Special praise should be given to the characterizations of Malkin, played by Joey Collins, and Eichman, portrayed by Philip Goodwin, and the involving dialogue of Evan M. Wiener. Ed Herendeen has made it all work to perfection.

Captors appears on the 50th anniversary of Eichmann’s conviction and execution, a haunting reminder of the darkest part of the last century.

I hope you get to see some or all of these plays… but hurry. I understand Barcelona is pretty much sold out now.

My life has changed… not for the better, I’m afraid

Following my radio show this morning, I’m sitting over at Mellow Moods having coffee while I wait for my friend Cecil to pick me up

He’s over at  workshop at the Contemporary American Theater Festival and are schedules our slightly skewed.

This not being able to drive, what I have been condemned to since my accident, stands a real possibility of going on for the rest of my life. If I were in a city with public transportation to everything going on, it would be one thing, but I’m a few miles out of town in an empty, rural neighborhood where walking to anything is out of the question and there are no buses or anything else.

I’m dependent on family and friends to go out, can no longer do the grocery shopping, which I enjoyed, and, basically I feel trapped. The internet is my only way out, so you, dear blog readers, are now my connection to the world. I enjoy hearing from you whether you agree with me or not.

Think I’ll go buy another cup of coffee while it becomes 102° outside.

Our Second Night of CATF…

Contemporary American Theater Festival

Last night we saw two plays at the Contemporary American Theater Festival… and I have to have seen all five by Sunday so I can get my WSHC reviews in by Monday.

Our friends Linda and Cecil are up from Silver Spring to see them all with Elly and me… this is our annual couples get together. Linda and I go way back to our time at Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Last night we saw “Gideon’s Knot” by Johnna Adams (a workd premiere), and “The Exceptionals” by Bob Clyman. Tonight we go to “Barcelona” by Bess Wohl (another world premiere.)

When I finish my reviews I’ll post them here as well… the Festival goes on throughout the month and I hope you’ll use my reviews to make your attendance decisions.

I’m on my way over to CATF this morning to interview Ed Herendeen…

Ed Herendeen

Given his tight rehearsal schedule, I have been lucky to snare 20 minutes with Producing Director Ed Herendeen this morning at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. I am doing this for Fluent, Nancy McKeithen’s forthcoming on-line arts magazine which will appear on or about July 1st.

Ed is a theatre professional that I greatly admire and his festival is one of the reasons Elly and I moved to Shepherdstown. Indeed, because of the CATF even more arts organizations and programs have built up here and, if you can’t live in short travel distance to NYC, this is a great place to be.

Anyway, I’ve got to get out of the house. I’ll be back on line later…

Saturday starts my new radio show on WSHC…

Although the times may be moving around a little during football season, I am starting my new program this Saturday at 9:00 am, and this week we will be running until 11:00. I only got the word yesterday, so I may not be able to get guests to talk with… although eventually I want to do a lot of guest interviews and incoming phone calls from listeners. I’m calling the show “Talk To Me,” and that’s what is going to be the dominant theme.

I’ll be playing some of my esoteric song collection as well, the amount of which will depend on how much talk I can scare up. I’d like to talk about politics, the local arts scene, Shepherdstown business, and anything else my listeners want to converse about… within reason.

I’ll still be doing Friday mornings with John Case on Winners and Losers… I’ll ket you know more about my Saturday show then.

If you want to call in this Saturday, the phone number is 304-876-5369. We’ll be on WSHC, 89.7 on the FM dial, or http://www.897wshc.org on the internet. Hope you’ll be there.

 

I’ll be hosting “Winners and Losers” on WSHC for the next week and a half…

Grandfather Case

John Case called me right after his Wednesday morning show to tell me his daughter was about to deliver his grandchild in Canada and he was taking off and needed to give me the studio key. He will be picking up Carol after she gets to the train station after work and they will be driving to Alberta.

So now I’ll be getting up early for the oncoming mornings to start the show warm ups at 7:00 AM and to open the program at 7:30 AM.  I hope you will all tune in to WSHC 89.7 FM for the next seven weekday mornings (or beyond, depending on John’s schedule.) You can also tune in on the internet at http://www.897wshc.org. You can call in on the programs at 304-876-5359.

I’m also looking for interview guests who represent things going on in Shepherdstown. If that’s you, reply to this post.

Goings on in Shepherdstown this weekend…

This is the last weekend of the CATF and I’m told there are still tickets available for some of the plays.

 CALL THE BOX OFFICE TODAY!  800-999-CATF (2283)

There are still shows tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. RACE, unfortunately is sold out (although some people hang around the box office to see if there are cancellations or last minute non-attendees.)

Speaking of RACE, tomorrow (Saturday) at 4:30 PM at Reynolds Hall, the last CATF Free Lecture, this one on RACE and racial issues, will be held. Free means Free… and these things fill up. No reservations.

Tomorrow Morning from 9:00 to Noon you’ll find me and my friends at Morgan’s Grove Market. There’s going to be fresh local corn and other garden output for sale… plus baked goods, crafts, and other things. Plenty of free parking… just west of Morgan’s Grove park. Live music from 10 to Noon. Exercise classes and more. C’mon by. C’mon and buy.

Small Electronics Recycling

Corner of German & King Streets, at ‘The Wall’

104 N. King Street
Shepherdstown, WV
limit: 1 television per person. Bring in your old tape recorders, cd players, etc. Clean up your house!
—-

Sunday Farmers Market (behind the Library)… it’s the beginning of big produce season. Do your grocery shopping locally. 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

“Ghost-Writer”… a play by Michael Hollinger

Contemporary American Theater Festival

Last night we went to the second of CATF‘s Tuesday night staged readings. This one was the utterly amazing “Ghost-Writer” by Michael Hollinger,  directed by Ed Herendeen with a cast of three: John Lescault, Julianna Zinkel (currently appearing in “From Prague“) and Tamara Tunie (from the cast of “We Are Here”).

You may think a staged reading, where there is no activity within a set, where the performers read directly from the script while sitting in chairs in a line and where the Stage Manager reads the stage directions) would be less exciting to attend than one of the fully prepared productions. You would, however, be wrong. Back in my College days at Northwestern University you could get a degree in the subject “Oral Interpretation of Literature”… right up to a PhD. That department performed many staged readings, many of which were done before paid audiences where they frequently sold out. Such a performance requires a special set of skills by actors to create characters and perform acts which you see in your imagination. When done well, as this one was, it is a delight.

Hollinger, a 49 year old playwright and former violinist from Pennsylvania, has created a mysterious and imaginative work here which kept the audience mesmerized throughout.

In a summary from the play’s premiere at Pennsylvania’s Arden Theatre Company, Ghost-Writer was summed up as follows:

It’s 1919, and novelist Franklin Woolsey has died, dictating his latest novel to his devoted secretary, Myra. But she continues to type anyway, claiming she’s still receiving dictation, and dutifully sends each chapter to the publisher under her late employer’s name. (Woolsey’s widow – who hasn’t heard a word from her husband – is understandably vexed.) Is Myra channeling the dead author? Is she merely an artful forger? Where did the words used to come from, and where do they come from now? A tale of inspiration, expiration, and vicarious love.


That shouldn’t give away the mysteries of the plot (in case you should see another production of the play, which I hope you can), but gives a good idea of its environment. The cast did a superb job… especially Ms. Zinkel, whom I have invited to be interviewed on the Friday Morning Winner’s And Losers show on WSHC with John Case and me. I hope she can make it.

There is one more staged reading, next week at the Opera House, of a new play by “From Prague”‘s author, Kyle Bradstreet. That’s Tuesday night, the 26th, at 7:00 PM. And did I say these readings are FREE? They are, so come early to get a good seat… the house was full last night.

A Few Updates on My Goings On in Shepherdstown…

Last night I got back from one of the Friday 5:00 or so meetings at The Folly where we all sat around drinking beer, wine and Diet Coke (me) and made plans for the Rube Carnival in August. This is going to be fun. I’ve scheduled three days next week to go over and make my slingshot shooting gallery.

This morning Elly and I are running the Four Seasons Bookstore’s booth at the Morgan’s grove market, where we will also be selling her baked goods (spiced breads and the best rugelach on earth!) and some of Ruth’s garden produce.

Coming in August when John Case and his wife travel to Canada where their daughter is due to have their grandchild, I’ll be subbing for a week on Winners And Losers every morning on WSHC. And, as long as I’m talking about the radio station, we recorded my CATF reviews and they will be scattered around WSHC throughout the month until July 31st.

So this is a pretty active summer for me…not something I’ve been used to for quite a while.

Today’s Podcast is up…

If you missed the live broadcast you can click below and hear the recorded version. Today we discussed the 4th of July Holiday, The CATF season, and some politics.

If you miss it, the recording will be at BlogTalkRadio, HERE .

CATF’s 21st Season… an Overview

We often think of 21 as the age of adulthood, and this year the Contemporary American Theater Festival has turned 21.  In the years since it was conceived and brought into the world by Ed Herendeen, under the auspices of Shepherd University, the CATF has not only brought new plays, professional actors and visionary directors to Shepherdstown, it has given our small community an international focus in the Theater World.

CATF has brought us world premieres, commissioned works and plays by both the famous and the unknown.  Very few, if any, have ever let us down… and this season is no exception.

This year’s plays include:

Ages of the Moon, by Sam Shepard

The Insurgents, a World Premiere of a Commissioned Play by Lucy Thurber

Race, by David Mamet

We Are Here,  by Tracy Thorne

and

From Prague, World Premiere by Kyle Bradstreet

There are also extra, 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 (warning a number of shows are Sold Out already, so call soon), 304-876-3473 or 800-999-CATF.

Ages of the Moon, by Sam Shepard, Directed by Ed Herendeen

In this long one-act, two men in their 60s, Ames (Anderson Matthews) and Byron (John Ottavino), sit on Ames’ front porch and discuss their 50-year friendship while waiting for a 5:00 AM eclipse of the moon. Yet, as they discuss their lives, we discover two different personalities, one prone to agitation and anger and the other composed and calm.

Both of them are aware that each is older than the last time they were together and both are losing their memories.

Both have lost the women in their lives… in fact they are together because Ames has called Byron for support because his wife has apparently walked off. We find out later that Byron’s wife, Lacey, has died (something he never told Ames about before… which gets the angrier one upset.)

As the eclipse progresses, they go through arguments, some hand to hand wrangling and what appears to be a near heart attack, ending up as two tired friends who realize they are all each other has as they watch the moon disappear in shadow.

And the question you ask, finally, are these two sides of the same person?

***

The Insurgents, a World Premiere of a Commissioned Play by Lucy Thurber,  Directed by Lear Debessonet

In a small, working class kitchen in western Massachusetts, Sally (Cassie Beck) has returned home from one of her several excursions around the country… something she has been doing for six years. She has been seeking answers to problems that the world seems to have inflicted on her… losing a college scholarship, questioning her identity as daughter to a laid off father and sister to an anti-intellectual brother.

As she questions her life she ponders revolt against society, influenced by the books she immerses herself in about the great insurgents of a previous age (John Brown, Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman)… and one of recent vintage (Timothy McVeigh.). All of them believed in using violence, if necessary. All believed they were called… whether by God or conscience… to carry out their actions.

The question is, now that you have learned how uneven the playing field is, how do you stand up to the things that are tearing you down? How it is not the fault of your lower class family, since you and they were cheated  from birth, that you read the books, on revolution and try to do something about the situation. How do you remain part of your family knowing they will never understand and will be truly alienated?

Be aware, there is a certain amount of audience participation in this work… from the direct discourse at the opening, to the singing, with lyrics supplied in the program, at the end. Don’t worry, you’ll enjoy it.

***

Race, by David Mamet, Directed by Ed Herendeen

Into a law firm run by an Afro-American partner (Guieseppe Jones) and a white partner (Kurt Zischke), with a young, black legal aide ( Crystal A. Dickinson), comes a wealthy white man (Anderson Matthews) accused of raping a black chambermaid. He seeks representation before going to court, having been turned down by another firm. The  greater part of the play is concerned with whether or not the partners will represent him, and, when there is no longer any choice, how they will structure the case to get him off.

At the same time it explores the power structure of race and how it becomes, as Mamet says, “a play about lies… Race, like sex, is a subject on which it is near impossible to tell the truth.” The tension of racial relations and office politics are combined with the weight of attitude, class and money to make surprise twists and turns for the audience.

If you have seen similar Mamet plays…Oleana comes to mind… then you will recognize an aspect of the author’s style that can only be called audience manipulation. The technique requires powerful character performances, and this cast is spectacular.

BTW, many of the scheduled performances of Race started selling out early. Check with the Box Office to see what’s available.

***

We Are Here,  by Tracy Thorne , Directed by Lucie Tiberghien

What happens when a child dies ending a family bloodline in tragedy?

In this remarkable play, two generations of upper middle class interracial marriages are on the verge of falling apart over the untimely death of Eli (Barrington Walters, Jr.), the young son of Billie (Crystal A. Dickinson) and Hal (Cary Donaldson). In the midst of their sorrow Billie somehow speaks to and hears Eli as they discuss ordinary things… Is it a dream? A hallucination?

Hal, her parents…Vera (Tamara Tunie) and Everett (Kurt Zischke)… and her sister Shawn (Stacey Sergeant), with whom she has a stormy relationship, all want her to stop talking to the air. Yet it is the thing that is keeping her sane in the face of misery. During the course of the play, Eli becomes visible and speaks with each of the others in the family… each with a different view of who he was and their relationship with him.

One of the most beautiful concepts in We Are Here is how the family communicates by music, carrying out a weekly song night. The songs show who they are in a clear and creative way… I was especially taken with Vera’s intense version of “Fever” which she sings in a vision of putting baby Eli to sleep.

The grief over of the child, the lift of the music and the closeness of a truly functional family is what finally brings them together to deal with the trial of life.

***

From Prague, World Premiere by Kyle Bradstreet, Directed by Ed Herendeen

For me, this is the best play of the season. Told in alternating monologues as the audience sits in a crumbling church, we learn of the breakup of a family over the sexual transgression of the father, Samuel (John Lescault). After sleeping with one of his students (Julianna Zinkel) and being discovered by his middle son Charles (Andy Bean), he flees to Prague where he apparently has committed suicide leaping off the Charles Bridge at the site of the Great Crucifix.

The interrelationships of the three characters are revealed throughout the monologues as they move from Prague to the funeral of Samuel’s wife, Patricia, back in the States. These are complex interactions which keeps the audience in a framework of investigation as the lives of the three characters go back and forth in time.

Prague is a haunting city made even more so by the wonderful set. Snow is falling as the audience enters and, to some extent, walks through it as they enter. It sets you up for the experience of a family torn apart by lies and self-destruction.

Having Coffee at Mellow Moods and Working on My CATF Reviews.

Now that I’ve seen all five plays, I’m starting to see a very interesting theme that or set of themes that form a basis for them all: Family, Society, Death, Recovery, Race, Politics, Helplessness and the search for redemption. These are five very strong plays by five diverse playwrights of different backgrounds and styles, yet their work comes together to form a brilliant combination and a most effective season.

Most of this, of course, is due to the choices made by Ed Herendeen, Peggy McKowen and their staff over the previous year leading to the Festival…not to mention the selection of actors to carry out the imaginins of five talented playwrights.

The CATF is an event that makes Shepherdstown stand out internationally – and it brings the most professional and satisfying theatre to a small West Virginia town so far from Broadway that it makes you cry.

I’ll be publishing the reviews later today or tomorrow, and recording them next week at WSHC.

CATF reviewing is going along as planned.

From David Mamet's "Race"

I’ve seen four of the five CATF plays so far and I have the fifth one, We Are Here, at the Studio Theater at 8:30 PM. I won’t give any details of the shows yet, except to say they are certainly worth seeing and cover a range of dramatic experience that I’ve come to expect from this festival. I’ll be posting at some time tomorrow and will be doing the audio reviews on my podcast Tuesday at 10 AM (Click Here on Tuesday Morning).

Friday I am recording the reviews for WSHC FM (89.7) in Shepherdstown, where they will be individually scattered throughout the month while CATF is going on (July 8th-31st).

I would suggest you hurry to CATF.org and get reservations as some shows have several sold out performances, especially David Mamet’s Race, which started selling out a month ago.

I’ve got TWO plays to see at CATF today…

“For 20 years, in the oldest town in West Virginia, new plays have had a home and a loyal audience.  The Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University is a dream for the writers of those plays.”


NPR’s Morning Edition – June 2010

On Saturday my wife and I were at the invited dress rehearsal of Kyle Bradstreet’s From Prague, one of the five plays I’m doing reviews for at WSHC. I won’t comment on it now (I do my reviews on Friday and they will be scattered through WSHC broadcasts at 89.7 FM… plus they will be reproduced on this blog and I’ll discuss them on next week’s Podcast), but I will say that it was one of the most amazing theatre experiences I have had in recent memory. This is a world premiere, so you are not likely to have seen it anywhere else… so go over to CATF and get tickets NOW.

This afternoon, John Case and I are going to the invited dress rehearsal of Sam Shephard’s Ages of the Moon and tonight Elly and I will be seeing David Mamet‘s Race at CATF. Then I’ll have two more plays to see tomorrow and Thursday so I can put my reviews together on Friday.

We are so fortunate in Shepherdstown to have the CATF. This is its 21st Season, and, as Elly and I have said many times, CATF is one of the things that attracted us to Shepherdstown as a place to live. To see excellent,

Contemporary American Theater Festival

professional Equity actors in new plays by both new and well-known American playwrights directed by supremely talented people like the Festival’s founder, Ed Herendeen, is an experience that defies accurate description.

More to come.

CATF reviews coming in July…

I’ll be reviewing all 5 plays at the Contemporary American Theater Festival again this year for WSHC. I’m covering dress rehearsals and previews prior to opening nights so I can give our listeners an advanced view of the plays.

I’ll also be putting them on
line here and on Facebook. Watch for them around July 8th.

I was so happy to see that the NY Times has the CATF in their Summer Theatre Season listing.

Contemporary American Theater Festival

I didn’t remember seeing CATF last year, but this year, when the NY Times ran it’s annual listing of major theater sites across the country, there was the Contemporary American Theater Festival, the only listing under West Virginia in Summer Stages.

Looks like our local festival, now entering its 21st year, is being recognized in the major listings. Congratulations to Ed Herendeen and staff.

The Plays in Repertory, JULY 8 – 31:
FROM PRAGUE by Kyle Bradstreet
RACE by David Mamet
AGES OF THE MOON by Sam Shepard
WE ARE HERE by Tracy Thorne
THE INSURGENTS by Lucy Thurber

Shepherd University presents Phase II Arts Center Proposal

Here in Shepherdstown, WV, we have very few major local conflicts… but one I discovered

John Doyle before the presentation.

shortly after moving here close to three years ago was the amount of complaining by a few locals being coordinated by their State Delegate John Doyle over the design of the Phase I Arts Center building at the University.  Most of the original arguing went on before I moved to town… when I got here, drawn by the Nationally famous Contemporary American Theater Festival and the wonderful intellectual capacity of this small village (which was far superior to Hagerstown, MD, where Elly and I were living), the Phase I building was already about to open and, over the years, we have been to theater performances, art exhibits  and related receptions there and found it a great structure and perfect art location.

Viewing the designs.

Now, a number of locals who live, apparently, in 19th Century Houses across Rte 480 and who want Shepherdstown to stay a century-and-a-half-years-old in design, have returned to the presentation made at the University tonite to announce Phase II, and raised their issues again about the architectural design, copper shingling, round rooflines, etc. However, a relatively large number of residents, yours truly included, spoke in favor of the buildings and completely outnumbered the complainers.

President Suzanne Shipley

The Phase II building will include a new Arena Theater (around 180 seats) which will be used by CATF in the summer and by the University the rest of the year; scenery, prop and costume shops; upper and lower lobbies; sculpture and painting studios; classrooms and more.

Dr. Suzanne Shipley, Shepherd’s President, introduced Doug Moss, Architect for Holzman Moss Bottino, who

Presenting the Model

presented the building design, and then answered questions, getting stuck in about 20 minutes of brouhaha from the design protesters. Ed Herendeen and a few of the CATF people, Mayor Jim Auxer and a number of other locals listened closely to the rest of the presentation, asked questions about handicap access and other design elements, and, in general, were impressed with the designs.

Phase II of the Center for Contemporary Arts is slated to be built on Shepherd’s West Campus at the intersection of Route 480, Shepherd Grade, and West Campus Drive. The second phase of the building is funded by an $11 million state appropriation –  and, to be fair, Delegate Doyle has worked very hard to obtain the State funding and should be praised for his fund raising activities.

I’m looking forward to Phase II being constructed and know that, some years down the road, we’ll be entering the complaint fray with Phase III, which will add two more theaters and three more buildings to the mix.

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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