Happiness and redemption explored at theater festival

July 06, 2006|by KATE COLEMAN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Four new plays will be presented July 7 to 30 in the 16th season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown.

Although there is no theme this year, "there never is - sometimes you see what's in the air," said Ed Herendeen, CATF founder and producing director.

Two plays deal with redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness. A third looks at the connection of memory and history. Another explores happiness in America.

"Mr. Marmalade" by Noah Haidle is "a signature CATF kind of play," Herendeen said. Mr. Marmalade of the title is the imaginary friend of Lucy, a 4-year-old who creates a "surprisingly sophisticated" fantasyland while her single mother is away - a lot. It's funny and entertaining but has a disturbing twist as it exposes that children don't miss a trick, Herendeen said.


"Jazzland," commissioned by CATF, is by Keith Glover, who wrote "The Rose of Corazon" for the 2004 festival. The drama, which "pits pure jazz against rock fusion ... the father against the son," has changed immensely since its staged reading at the festival last summer.

"Sex, Death, and the Beach Baby" is a world premiere by Kim Merrill. Merrill's fascination with the connection between personal history and a larger, social history comes into play in her comic fantasy, the story of Clara's trip home to the Jersey shore where she was found as an infant in the sand.

"Augusta" is a world premiere of the first in a trilogy of plays on happiness in America by CATF veteran Richard Dresser.

As if four plays weren't enough, there will be staged readings, discussions and lectures, including one by author and Time film critic Richard Schickel on Elia Kazan and his work in theater.

CATF beyond the stage

Under the Tent Lectures will follow matinee performances at 4:30 p.m. each Saturday during the festival on the lawn of the Frank Center for the Creative Arts. Admission is free.

Lectures include:

· July 8, "Playwrights Talk"

Producing director Ed Herendeen talks with the 2006 playwrights: Richard Dresser, Keith Glover, Noah Haidle and Kim Merrill.

· July 15, "Jazz Legacies"

Lee Mergner, group publisher for JazzTimes and Harp magazines, will speak about the mysteries and myths surrounding the deaths and legacies of jazz artists.

· July 22, "Contemporary American Desires"

William B. Irvine, philosophy professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, will discuss his book, "On Desire: Why We Want What We Want."

· July 29, "Elia Kazan: The Birth of Contemporary American Theater"

Richard Schickel, author of "Elia Kazan: A Biography," will speak about this seminal figure in American film and theater, famous for his early work with The Group Theater.

Staged readings will be held in the Studio Theater on King Street. Admission is free. Readings include "Lonesome Hollow" by Lee Blessing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, and "The Pursuit of Happiness" by Richard Dresserat 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 18.

Robert Prosky will lecture on "A Household Face" at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies (King Street, East Campus, across from the Studio Theater). Tickets cost $10.

Join veteran actor Prosky for a discussion on his life and career, including clips of his film and television work and a question-and-answer session. The award-winning Prosky has performed in more than 200 plays, 38 films and numerous television shows. His next project will be a production of Arthur Miller's "The Price" at Cape May Stage with his two sons, John and Andy, who are performing in two shows this season at CATF.

· Changeover tours at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays, July 15 and 22. Patrick Wallace, CATF production manager, will explain the process and planning behind the design, construction and movement of the sets for "Mr. Marmalade" and "Sex, Death, and the Beach Baby" as the production crew changes the set for the evening performance at the Frank Center. Tours are free.

· Actors Lab Production: CATF's non-Equity company presents "Happyslap," a new play by Laura Jacqmin at Studio Theater at 10:30 p.m. Friday, July 21; 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 25; and 1 p.m. Friday, July 28. Admission is free.

· Art at the Festival: "The Playwrights Series," by Susan Johann, in Frank Center exhibit space

Susan Johann began photographing and interviewing playwrights in 1989. Since that time, she has photographed nearly every major contemporary American playwright and has photographed every Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for the past 10 years.

Contemporary American Theater Festival schedule

Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va.; call 304-876-3473 or go to

"Sex, Death, and the Beach Baby"

All performances at Frank Center Stage

· 8 p.m. Friday, July 7 - followed by opening night reception on Frank Center lawn

· 2 p.m. Saturday, July 8

· 5 p.m. Sunday, July 9

· 8 p.m. Thursday, July 13 - followed by a post-show discussion

· 8 p.m. Saturday, July 15

· Noon Sunday, July 16

· 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 19

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