Home Valley Advocate Stagestruck: Read, Not Dead – Valley playwrights’ scripts come to life

Stagestruck: Read, Not Dead – Valley playwrights’ scripts come to life



For the six members of the Northampton Playwrights Lab whose plays are having staged readings this weekend and next, the performances represent the first public airings of new scripts and newly revised older work. Some are brand new, having received feedback and suggestions from the Lab members at their bi-weekly meetings but never shared outside the group, and some are updated works that have had previous workshops or productions. All are full-length scripts, with the exception of one set of two shorter works.

Play by Play is the umbrella title for the two-weekend festival at A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton, which premiered last year and looks to be an annual fixture. The six performances run a gamut of styles and themes: envy, suspicion and schemes in a (supposedly) utopian ecovillage; boom and bust in the Internet bubble; a funny/creepy peek into disturbing family secrets; a comedy about grief and polyamory; three of the Grimm Brothers’ witchy women updated; and an explosive dialogue about teen troubles, paired with a rock’n’roll monologue.


The festival opens tomorrow (Thursday) with Crowsnest, by UMass theater professor Harley Erdman, best known in this area as librettist of several new operas. His play, in its first-ever public performance, takes place in a rural utopian community riven by “jealousy, secrets, and conspiracy” and explores “the meanings of love, family and community.”

The extent and variety of theater in the Valley, Erdman says, has made us all aware of the depth of talent among local actors and directors, but “what may not be as apparent is how much playwriting talent there is.” He points to the Lab’s “eight pretty impressive writers regularly producing sharp, fresh, funny, well-crafted new work.” Play by Play, he hopes, will “open up a window to our friends and colleagues into the work we share with each other.”

Friday’s program features The Winklemeyers Bet It All, by Mojie Crigler. It’s “the story of one man’s boom and bust during the first wave of big Internet money,” looking at the price we pay in the elusive pursuit of success. This is the play’s second public outing, having been produced at “an obscure, now-defunct theater festival in New York City,” Crigler says.

On Saturday we’ll see Where’s Annie? by Eric Henry Sanders, in which the title’s question leads to a young woman’s discovery that her American Gothic grandparents are spinning an “alternately terrifying and bitterly humorous web of riddles, lies, and suspicion.” This weekend’s reading offers “audiences a first glimpse at a substantially revised version of the play,” which was first produced by the Hudson Stage Company in suburban New York.


The second week begins with two performances of Naked With Fruit, “a comedy about grief and the quest for love and family” by Meryl Cohn, who founded the Lab 11 years ago. When one member of a polyamorous threesome dies, the other two embark on “a tricky road to recovery” involving “desperate measures … secrets and betrayals.” The script, revised after a previous production at the Provincetown Theater, was a Mass Cultural Council Finalist for playwriting.

“As playwrights, we spend a lot of time working alone,” Cohn explains. “When we come together with other playwrights in the Lab and hear our work aloud, it lets us know if we’re going in the right direction. But theater is only really alive when there’s an audience, and the public performances we do with a festival like Play by Play make that happen.”

Next Saturday’s offering is Grimm Women, “a radical re-envisioning of three classic fairy tales” by Leanna James Blackwell. The set of monologues by three very different contemporary women “transforms the traditionally maligned witches, stepmothers and spell-casting fairies of legend into living, breathing 21st-century women” who finally get to tell their side of the story. Blackwell’s Curtain Call, which was part of last year’s Play by Play, was recently performed at the Berkshire Theatre Group.

Blackwell credits her development as a playwright to the Lab members’ “high level of expertise, skill and professionalism. You couldn’t pay to get feedback this good – and this thorough – and you certainly wouldn’t enjoy it as much,” she says.

The festival ends with a Sunday matinee performance of two short pieces by Tanyss Rhea Martula, originator of Northampton’s 24-Hour Theater Festival. In Hotpot, two mothers discussing their teenage children “find themselves in a mélange of tight spaces, awkwardness and confusion.” An earlier version was staged at Chicago Dramatists. In contrast, My Life in Rock’n’Roll is a work in progress, a solo piece performed by the playwright – “a roller-coaster ride” of late-life passions and “the highs and lows of an unpredictable family” – which will be followed by an opportunity for audience feedback.


At A.P.E. Gallery, 126 Main St., Northampton, Sept. 15-17 & 22-25. $10 suggested donation, limited seating, no reservations.

Thurs. Sept. 15 at 7:30:  CROWSNEST, by Harley Erdman, directed by Sheila Siragusa.

Fri. Sept. 16 at 7:30:  THE WINKLEMEYERS BET IT ALL, by Mojie Crigler, directed by Jennifer Onopa.

Sat. Sept. 17 at 7:30:  WHERE’S ANNIE?, by Eric Henry Sanders, directed by Gina Kaufmann.

Thurs.-Fri. Sept 22-23 at 7:30:  NAKED WITH FRUIT, by Meryl Cohn, directed by Melissa Redwin.

Sat. Sept. 24 at 7:30:  GRIMM WOMEN, by Leanna James Blackwell, directed by the playwright.

Sunday, Sep. 25 at 4 p.m.:  HOTPOT, by Tanyss Rhea Martula, directed by Becca Greene-Van Horn, and MY LIFE IN ROCK’N’ROLL.


Photo, clockwise from upper left: Meryl Cohn, Eric Henry Sanders, Leanna James Blackwell, Harley Erdman


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