This is the 3rd year that playwrights and directors have been given the opportunity to hear the plays read aloud by actors before the auditions. An innovative idea by the Festival’s Artistic Directors, it’s now become tradition.
Last night (Dec 3), we heard Stalled by Eugenie Carabatsos (which will be directed by New Ideas co-founder Kerri MacDonald in Week One). Carabatsos is a New York-based playwright, whose piece In Their Glory premiered as a staged reading at New Ideas 2012. The reading and brief ensuing discussion of Stalled was taped for her use. Stalled is a funny, charming, 25-minute play about Maggie and her relationship with her old car. On her way (reluctantly) to the junkyard with her oddly human car – it provides appropriate noises to punctuate her musings! – Maggie re-lives her past experiences in it. Family members, old boyfriends and could-be boyfriends pop up from the backseat to interact with her.
Next up was Revelation by Shirley Barrie, to be directed by Molly Thom, the other New Ideas co-founder. Revelation was an audience favourite from NIF 2001, and is being remounted with its original director in celebration of the Festival’s 25th anniversary – it will be the Festival opener. Barrie describes this play as “a Tragicomedy of Errors”, and it certainly is! On Judgement Day, John, who died young in the 1930’s, awakes in his coffin to find himself buried beside a crotchety old woman who claims she’s his wife Mary. In 25 minutes, the audience gets turned around at least three times in their sympathies. Or was that just me?
The final piece that was read will appear in Week Two of the Festival: Gina Femia’s Pieces of Penelope, to be directed by Janet Kish. If the title makes you think of Margaret Atwood’s recent (and it’s coming back again! Nightwood Theatre is remounting it at Buddies in Bad Times starting Jan 8. http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/the_penelopiad) stunner The Penelopiad, and mentally assert that The Odyssey has already been treated to the definitive stage version, thankyouverymuch (or was that just me again?), think again. This is totally different. And not just because Femia is from New York, and can therefore be excused for not knowing about Atwood – unlike Toronto’s possibly-soon-ex-mayor and his brother… But I digress. Femia’s play ran a dense 35 minutes in the reading, which was also recorded for the writer’s use. The non-linear script interweaves aspects of The Odyssey (faithful Penelope awaiting the return of her adventuring husband Odysseus, while piggish suitors take over her palace) with the modern-day story of two soldier’s wives (they’re married to brothers) who are desperate for their own husbands to return from war in one piece. It incorporates beautiful image-laden language (example: “I put a story in the sky for her”), one actor playing multiple characters, and a script that presents – shall we say – some staging challenges! Script-wise, I thought Homer’s Odyssey plot was very deftly handled with a few brief lines between Penelope and her handmaid Melantho, but Justen Bennett (who will direct Chloë Whitehorn’s The Deepest Trench in Week Two) wondered if everyone in the audience would understand the references. A playwright’s note in the program & lobby display would be my suggestion.
Readers for tonight’s entertainment were: Andrea Brown, Scott Dermody, Elisabeth Feltaous, Pat Hawk, Erin Jones, Neale Kimmel, Tina McCulloch, Sean Speake. More tomorrow for night #2 of the cold reads! I should mention again that these are very literally cold reads – the actors are recruited from past reading events at Alumnae Theatre, like Big Ideas or Write Now, and are handed a script pretty much as they walk through the door! But this is not an audition, so there’s no pressure. And speaking as a playwright, it’s a huge thrill to hear your words spoken aloud by someone else for the first time.