The Contemporary American Theater Festival‘s 29th season will feature six new plays — four of them world premieres — which focus on the great cultural changes running through our society. If that intrigues you, you may wish to consider setting aside some time between July 5 and 28 for a jaunt to Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Two of the plays have a little bit of history. In Ellen Fairey’s Support Group for Men, a group of adult males get together to participate in a weekly Native American bonding ritual. If that sounds atypical for the Chicago neighborhood in which the play is set, what follows doesn’t — a loud disturbance in the alley next to the building, and a subsequent visit from the cops…including a woman. Soon, her male partner, plus someone who just came from the alley, are seeking a little Support themselves. “[T]his is a work with gobs of empathy for all,” says the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones, “and this show even comes with a romantic belief that Chicago is the ideal, good-humored town of reconciliation.” Courtney Sale will direct.
The other non-premiere will be Joseph Dougherty’s Chester Bailey, the story of a man who wakes up in a military hospital in 1945, badly broken in mind and body. As he struggles to recollect his shattered memory, Chester constructs a series of illusions which help him make sense of what has happened to him. The San Jose Mercury’s Karen D’Souza, who had some criticisms of the play, called it “thoughtful”, “sly” and “suspenseful.” Ron Lagomarsino will direct.
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In addition to these two established plays, the CATF will present fresh offerings from Deborah Brevoort, Greg Kalleres, Michael Weller and the team of Dael Orlandersmith (Yellowman) and Antonio Edwards Suarez. Antonio’s Song, Orlandersmith’s and Suarez’s creation, is not only a world premiere but something new for the CATF: a solo movement piece, featuring Suarez. Subtitled I Was Dreaming of a Son, Antonio’s Song will “explores the sins of our fathers and mothers — as well as the gifts that our parents bestow upon us,” the Festival promises. Mark Clements will direct.
Veteran playwright Michael Weller’s (50 Words) play is called A Welcome Guest: A Psychotic Fairy Tale. It tells the tale of someone who finds that the authorities have given a houseguest permission to stay in his house as long as the houseguest wants…and then that the guest owns the house and the prior owner is now the guest. “A Welcome Guest explores intolerance, insanity, and how beautiful it is to know that underneath we’re all one big happy family, for better or (possibly) for worse,” according to the Festival. CATF Artistic Director Ed Herendeen will direct this play.
In Kalleres’ play, Wrecked, a couple driving down the road hits a deer, and drive on. Or a dog. Or…something. John and Victoria certainly agree on that. Something that it’s not a criminal act to hit and leave. And then suddenly some unexpected guests arrive, and John and Victoria’s memories diverge a little,. Or maybe…maybe a lot. “Now they must decide what’s worse,” the CATF explains, “a horrible truth or the terror of experiencing that truth alone.” The CATF has not announced who will direct this world premiere.
Finally, Brevoort’s My Lord, What a Night is a new play about an historical event: the night that famed African-American opera star Marian Anderson couldn’t find hotel space in segregated Princeton, New Jersey after giving a sold-out concert. So she accepted the offer of a local professor — named Albert Einstein — to stay at his home. Those of you who saw Marc Acito’s Secrets of the Universe at Hub Theatre last year might be interested in seeing how Brevoort handles the same material. Herendeen will direct.