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Pa. playwright's world is a stage

December 12, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - "At Land's End," Marcus Steinour's one-act comedy, made its New York debut in 1995 in a theater far, far off Broadway, but for the retired Letterkenny Army Depot computer programmer it was the big time.

Steinour, 68, of St. Thomas, has been writing plays since the early 1960s. Mostly they sat on shelves and collected dust, as did his unpublished 250-page novel.

His break came in 1994 when he saw in a local newspaper ad that the Conococheague Players, a community theater group in Chambersburg, Pa., was looking for new plays. He dusted off "Laughter From the Porch," three one-act vignettes about sisterly rivalry that he had written in 1962, and sent it in.

The group liked it and put it into production. It debuted in the Coy Library in Chambersburg and was shown later in some area nursing homes.

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His next success came in 1995 when he wrote a one-act play called "At Land's End."

He entered it in the Off, Off Broadway Short Play Festival in March of that year, and it won first place on both nights.

Steinour said seeing his play performed on a New York stage gave him a strange feeling. "It was nerve-racking but it was good in some ways. You pick up the slightest imperfections," he said.

His prize was having the play published by Samuel French, described by Steinour as the premier publisher of plays in the world.

His success in New York also qualified him to join the Dramatist Guild.

"At Land's End" was shown at the Capitol Theater in March 1996 in Chambersburg by the Chambersburg Community Theater.

"It was a full-stage production and ran for two weeks," Steinour said.

He has written 10 plays so far, including "A Touch of Bourbon," his first musical. Its music was written by Andrew Sussman, director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music. It, too, played at the Capitol.

Steinour had penned "Tomorrow When the Trains Go By," a drama about a poor family living on the other side of the tracks in 1960. It also had spent three decades on the shelf.

"I tried to get the community theater and Totem Pole (Playhouse) to perform it, but they weren't interested," he said.

In 1997 it was accepted by Love Creek Productions in New York. The company showcased the play at the Harold Clurman Theater for a week in June that year.

His biggest success is a play centered on the life of Virginia Wade, a 20-year-old woman who was killed on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. She was struck down by a stray bullet while baking bread in her kitchen. Wade was the only civilian killed in the battle.

Steinour learned about the battle growing up in Gettysburg. He transformed his knowledge into a play about Wade called "I Love You, Virginia."

He sent it to the Groves Theater Americana in California. The company was seeking new historic plays, Steinour said. It was accepted and put on stage by the Desert Theater League.

The play won the 1998 Desert Stars Award for outstanding original writing.

Steinour's latest work, still in progress, is a play about the burning of Chambersburg by the Confederacy in 1864. Next year is the 135th anniversary of the incident.

Steinour received two art grants for the work through the local arts council and chamber of commerce. He hopes the play will become a tradition in Chambersburg with an annual showing at the Capitol.

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