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Party crasher is part of CATF celebration

August 01, 2010|By KATE COLEMAN

I recently crashed a party.

I didn't mean to.

But now that I think about it, it felt right.

The party was a gathering of cast, crew, playwrights, trustees and I'm not sure who all else - a celebration of the 20th anniversary season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Let me explain.

My friend Bill and I had just attended a Sunday evening performance of "Lidless," the wrenching drama by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig. The play begins in a Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2004. Without intermission, with a slight change of the barest minimum of scenery - the action shifts to a week 15 years later in Minnesota.

"Lidless," in characteristic CATF fashion, had me squirming in my ringside seat.

After the play we headed over to the Yellow Brick Bank in downtown Shepherdstown to get something to eat. One side of the restaurant was dark, but there were people in the lighted bar/dining room. I asked a woman - who turned out to be owner Mary Lowe - if the restaurant was open. She responded by asking me if I had come for the CATF party. I joked that I could be included because I'd been attending festival plays for 18 of its 20 seasons. I also mentioned that I'd written several CATF previews for this newspaper. Mary invited us in and I backed into a corner to watch.

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I caught the eye of Zabryna Guevara and beckoned to her. She came over to say hello, remembering that we had met after her wonderful performance in "1001" at CATF 2007.

Warm and vivacious, she introduced me to her husband, told me that they have a 1-year-old son and called over a couple of the other "Lidless" actors.

It was fun to have a chance to thank Barzin Akhavan, Michael Goodfriend and Reema Zaman for their powerful performances. Sure, I'll admit to being a little bit stage struck - but it's more than that.

Each of the actors I've mentioned has a role in another CATF play - "Inana" by Michele Lowe. Goodfriend and Zaman each play two characters in that production. That's how the festival's "rotating repertory" works: The acting company performs the five plays in rotation over CATF's four weeks. The festival closes today.

Friends who have accompanied me always marvel that the actors can remember all their lines. But it never sounds like actors reciting words they've memorized. They are presenting important ideas through the imagined characters who've become people who seem very, very real.

One of the delights in seeing all the plays is seeing the actors in totally different roles. Meeting them in an offstage context provided an added layer of appreciation for their skill and hard work as artists.

As I write this, I count that I've seen 49 plays in 18 of CATF's 20 seasons. I hope to make it an even 50 - by getting off the waiting list and into the audience for the sold-out "White People."

"We dream really big dreams," Ed Herendeen, CATF founder and producing director told me in a season preview I wrote for The Herald-Mail in 1998.

He was matter-of-fact about the festival's grand mission: CATF is dedicated to producing and developing new American theater. The fact of the matter is its 20-year endurance.

"We do serious work that we hope engages people - provokes people to think, causes an emotional and cerebral or intelligent response," Herendeen told me in 2002. The work requires active participation on the part of the audience, he added.

CATF has provoked me to think thoughts and have feelings about many important issues. I am grateful to have had opportunities to actively participate in the work of CATF for so many years.

At that recent party, Barzin Akhavan sweetly thanked me for helping to make new theater possible.

I accept that he's right.

I didn't crash that party. I really am part of the celebration.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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