by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
The Orlando Playfest/Harriet Lake Festival of New Plays is history, having closed its two -week run April 11, 2010. Playfest is held annually in the spring at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, located in the lovely Loch Haven Park in downtown Orlando.
Several readings and workshops of new plays are offered during the event, along with one full production. This year’s fully staged play was John Biguenet’s Shotgun. Last year this play was presented as a reading, and it was so well received, it was chosen as the showcase production for this year. The choice was excellent, one of the best, possibly the best, of all the featured plays we have seen since we began attending several years ago.
We want this play to be brought to Jacksonville sometime in the future when it becomes available. Yes, it is that good. It had a fully staged production in New Orleans last year and is currently, through May 29, on-stage at the Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota.
Don’t be mislead by the title, which refers to architecture, rather than violence. The title’s connection to the weapon of the same name is indirect, and refers to a style of house that was a prevalent in the South in the period from the end of the Civil War through the mid-20th century. A shotgun house is a small frame house without a hallway. All doors are on the same side of the house and one could presumably shoot a shotgun in the front door that would exit right out the back door.
This play takes place in New Orleans, several months after Hurricane Katrina, at the double shotgun (a duplex version, separated by a wall between the two) owned by Mattie, a single black woman in her 30s, who is looking for a tenant for the vacant half so she can make the mortgage payments. Her widowed father, who lost his house and his job due to the storm, is living with her. A carpenter, Beau, in his early 40s and his teenage son Eugene rent the other half of the duplex. Beau views the situation as a great improvement over his previous housing, explaining that they can no longer afford the motel they have lived in since the hurricane severely damaged their home and took the life of the boy’s mother, Beau’s wife. Mattie’s father objects to her renting it to Beau not only because he wants to live in it, but also because Beau is white and this is a black neighborhood.
The lonely Beau and Mattie begin an affair much to the chagrin of her father and to Beau’s son. Confrontations occur, as you might expect, but this is as far as we will take you in the plot. The play is well written and brought home to the audience the hardships that beset New Orleans and its residents(many of whom are still homeless).The playwright, John Biguenet, is a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, and imparts his personal firsthand experience and observations of this tragedy.
The direction by David Karl Lee, Associate Director of New Play Development and Playfest, was right on the mark. His cast, Rus Blackwell, Barry White, Chantal Jean-Pierre, Dennis Neal and Brandon Peters, was excellent.
The Orlando Fest had nine new play readings, one workshop and the featured full production as covered above. To see all the readings, one has to attend two weekends since none are presented entirely on one weekend.
The workshop play, by Steven Christopher Yockey, had the ambiguous title Heavier Than. The production had a set, costumes, lighting, and props, with actors still carrying scripts when needed. This innovative take on Greek Myths, featuring the Minotaur and Icarus and using modern language, was a lot of fun and we think it has a future. One of the creative activities of going to workshops and readings is that you are encouraged to give written feed back to the playwrights on all aspects of the play. Our suggestion for this one was to consider a new, more descriptive title.
We saw two readings. Citizen Eve, by Scott Bibb and Jerry Rice, was a comedy related to the events surrounding the creation of the film All About Eve. Time in Kafta, by Len Jenkin, concerns the search of a college professor through Europe and previous eras for a possibly lost manuscript that will make him wealthy and famous. Both were well produced, interesting and provocative.
Every Playfest has a Keynote event. Last year it was Olympia Dukakis performing in a version of The Tempest. This year’s Keynote speaker was Philip Seymour Hoffman discussing his career. We had to choose between Mr. Hoffman and Shotgun since we could only attend one weekend. Shotgun was our choice since it was a play.
The Orlando Shakespeare Theater presents plays all year long, and yes as their name implies, they do Shakespeare. The 39 Steps will run from September 15 – October 10, and Cymbeline from October 12 – November 7. Visit www.orlandoshakes.org for more information or on Facebook search for Orlando Shakes. Also, plan ahead – the next Playfest is scheduled for April 8 – 17, 2011.
SHOTGUN – theatre review
by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom