Some of the most interesting new plays unveiled at this year’s Page-to-Stage Festival–held over the Labor Day weekend at the Kennedy Center–were among those offered by Playwrights Collaborative, a group of literary thespians that meets once a month at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
The group, while devoted to the art of writing for the stage, includes a number of accomplished actors. That’s not surprising, since actors–including such greats as Shakespeare, Pinter and Coward–have long been known to switch hats and put their own words into players’ mouths.
As a result, the Playwrights Collaborative readings were highly professional, featuring such well-known DC actors as Marilyn Bennett and Dwayne Starlin, along with newcomer Emily Sucher, a rising star who will be in a Welders Company world premiere in October.
The six plays include two mother-daughter duets, both starring Bennett and Sucher, with Starlin narrating. Where Are We Going, by Robin Baron, is a portrait of inter-generational conflict disguised as a driving lesson, while The Tour, by Bennett herself, offers a hilarious romp through an ex-husband’s house.
The role is a juicy one, with plenty of opportunity for bad behavior on the part of the first wife who, in an act of delicious revenge, is now able to criticize the belongings of the second.
According to Catherine O’Connor, facilitator of the Playwrights Collaborative, Bennett–who is a longtime fixture of the DC theatre scene–took up play writing precisely because of the paucity of roles, such as that of the mother in The Tour, for mature actresses such as herself.
O’Connor’s play, Quarter Given, is an unexpected look at role reversal, with Bennett this time playing a female mob enforcer who wants to be taken seriously. (She appears to prefer a coin found in the street to a pinky detached from its owner.)
A different slant on feminism is offered in Playing Many Parts, by Carol Anne Douglas, a monologue in which a young actress fills in the lines that Shakespeare omitted in Juliet, Desdemona and Lady M. Proxy, a second play by Douglas, deals with right to die issues.
The last play, Welcome Home by Duke Ryan, involves an eccentric family in which a pregnant grad student hands off her unwanted offspring–an infant named, prenatally, Poopsie–to her grumpy ‘gramps.’ Poopsie, obviously, poops. And Gramps, presented with a dirty infant, puts the kid in the washing machine. In one of the funniest lines of the play, a washer woman, named Maria, recommends that babies be hand washed instead.
One of the best things about the Page-to-Stage Festival is the opportunity it offers to see new plays from a wide range of groups, regardless of their pedigrees or professionalism. Judging by these six snippets from Playwrights Collaborative, community theatre is alive and well in DC.