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Developing new American theater

July 08, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Buckle your seat belts. The Contemporary American Theater Festival is no cushy ride.

"I really am drawn to playwrights who ask questions without giving us the answers," said Ed Herendeen, CATF founder and producing director.

Members of the audience provide their own answers. Those who have seen a CATF play come expecting work that is thought-provoking as well as entertaining, and their numbers are growing each year. As of last week, advance ticket sales were up 25 percent over last season's.

CATF's 14th season will open Friday, July 9, with "Homeland Security," a new play by Chicago-based playwright Stuart Flack, and the world premiere of "Flag Day," by Lee Blessing. "Rounding Third," by Richard Dresser, and "The Rose of Corazon," by Keith Glover, will open Saturday, July 10.

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The four plays will run through Sunday, Aug. 1. The works join the 50 new plays - including 17 world premieres - presented since 1991. Theater professionals and countless others have worked since then to produce and develop new American theater.

The ideas and questions raised this year by the theater company span social and personal concerns about fear and trust, race, destiny and the drive to win at any cost.

"Homeland Security" asks if we trust one another. Do we trust anyone? Do we ever really know the person with whom we're closest?

"Flag Day," the third Blessing work produced at CATF, asks about race in America with satire and visionary imagery.

Herendeen described Dresser's "Rounding Third" as a "microcosm of Little League, which is a microcosm of our society."

The play had a staged reading at CATF in 2002 and went on to productions in Chicago, New York and California.

"CATF was a great way to start this play," Dresser said.

He said he always feels comfortable with Herendeen.

"He just gets it," Dresser said.

Herendeen suggested Lee Sellars, who has acted in five previous CATF seasons, for the role of Don, the type-A-personality, gotta-win Little League coach whose son is the star pitcher. Andy Prosky is Michael, the new guy who just wants the kids to have fun.

Dresser, who coaches his son's Babe Ruth League baseball team, said he had to get in touch with the play to get in touch with the fact that he wanted to win.

"I thought I was Michael," he said. "By the time I was finished, I was Don."

Keith Glover is writer and director of "The Rose of Corazon: A Texas Songplay," the second musical to be presented at CATF.

Glover, who shares composer and lyricist credits with Billy Thompson and George Caldwell, said his play was a musical from its beginning.

"Music adds another sense of excitement," Herendeen said.

In the production, Rosa, a rescued Spanish war bride, comes to America. A magic rose in her garden can reveal her destiny when questions about love and faithfulness arise.

Although Glover wrote "The Rose of Corazon," he said, as director, he's learned to be patient and to allow the play to tell him what it is.

He said he's working with six wonderful actors to create a conversation. He wants the audience to be emotionally involved and join in the conversation.

As with all the plays, it's OK if the audience leaves with unanswered questions - as long as they're talking.

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