Yesterday afternoon, between 75 and 100 people spent some four hours watching and participating in readings of plays in a surprisingly happy event: St. Paul’s first Ten-Page Play Festival was an absolute joy. Plays by John Longenbaugh, Robert Neblett, La’Chris Jordan, Julie Newberry, Sean Patrick Leonard, and yours truly, as well as by another half dozen writers kept the audience laughing and thoughtful throughout the afternoon. The themes covered a lot of ground: family, race, loss, death, resurrection, men, women, discovery, and through it all, the search for meaning in the life with Christ. Sometimes religion was explicit, but mostly it hung beneath the surface, informing but never selling.
Several of the plays are worth mentioning from a personal point of view. As always, I loved Julie Newberry’s work in The Call of the Prophet. In the scene we saw, (from the growing larger work, a play I can’t wait to see in full), a commercially successful jingle writer faces unwanted inspiration–everything he writes emerges in minor chords. Slap-happy tunes just aren’t in him anymore–even Jingle Bells comes out mournfully. What will he do? When Miss Julie finishes this play, many people will want to know.
La’Chris Jordan’s Piney Ridge impacted me the first time I read it, and it’s impact was like a small earthquake yesterday. A story about a lynching of a young black man in Virginia in 1920, the play’s structure is exactly right and the tone and language of the play are subtle and tough and horrific. Adding to the luminance of the writing were the performances of Shaunyce Omar, Isiah Anderson, Lauren DuPree, and Perryn Wasson. Shaunyce Omar, a veteran of the national Menopause tour, was riveting as a mother discovering the truth about her missing son. Well-deserved, the applause after this play went on and on. It was my privilege to get to direct this reading, though all I did in our one rehearsal was sit with my mouth open at the work of these fine, fine actors. La’Chris and actors, congratulations.
Then there was the reading of my own play, The Catacombs of Texas, which felt pretty good to me. I was thankfully surprised at the warm reception of the play. The audience laughed a lot, and there were even a few gasps of surprise as the play’s climactic moments unfolded. There was one unfortunate thing: at the moment of the play’s first big reveal and action, the actors got a little confused, and skipped a major piece of the play that sort of torpedoed the thing. Oh, well…such is the life of a playwright. Overall, I was very happy with the reading, and I must mention my son Daniel read one of the roles and did a really nice job. That alone made it worth doing.
I was also happy that a couple of the actors from the Northwest Church came over and auditioned and were part of the process. It’s good to see Church of Christers mixing with Episcopaleans. It gives me hope.
I hope St. Paul’s does this again. Let’s get the word out.
…way to go, Julie…