Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Blast from the Past

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Every September for the last 25 years the Pittsburgh New Works Festival has brought together artists from all walks of life in their annual festival celebrating the art of writing new plays. There are 18 plays chosen for full productions from hundreds of submissions from around not only the country, but the world. For their 25th anniversary, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival chose four plays to give a second life to this weekend in their “Even More Awesome Plays from the Past” silver anniversary weekend. The shows being performed were the “Best Play” winners from 1992, 1998, 2002, and 2004.

First, A Skewed Nude by Kim (Zelonis) Dale, winner of Best Play in 2004 seemed to beg the question “Are you actually seeing what’s in front of you?” Starting off in an art gallery, we find an intern after learning the ropes of tour guiding, sitting in the corner sketching. In comes a woman whose name we eventually learn is Venus, to look at the piece “Venus Enlargement”, a larger than life painting of a nude, purple woman. Then enters a man, Art, who we later learn is the artist, though he doesn’t admit that until the end. He and Venus make small talk for a bit and discuss the gigantic purple nude. It was revealed that Venus was the model for the painting and Art was the artist.  It may be hard to believe they didn’t recognize each other but then again, that may be “Are you actually seeing what’s in front of you?” resurfacing.

A Skewed Nude was performed entirely on the apron of the stage for a simple scene change into Twilight by world-traveler and playwright Eileen Enwight Hodgetts. Twilight, winner in 1992, takes place along a road side in West Virginia where we find our protagonist, Perry, waiting. Suddenly, a young girl Maggie comes thundering through on her bicycle and crashes in an offstage ravine. The two chat about their lives then Perry reveals that he’s actually a ghost and was killed by Maggie’s abusive grandfather, Jake 50 years ago. In the end we learn Perry was in love with Maggie’s grandmother when they were young, fathered Maggie’s estranged father then was shot by Jake and thrown into the same ditch Maggie fell into at the beginning of the play.

Just One Abiding Dearth, by C.P. Stancich was not only the Best Show winner of the festival in 1998 but also Outstanding Playwright and Best Director. Just One Abiding Dearth is the story of an incredibly intellectual couple after the wife, Katrina, has an affair. Now, contrary to how most people would handle their spouse’s infidelity, her husband Ron doesn’t seem to be terribly upset about this which convinces Katrina he is also having an affair and she insists on finding out who it is. After explaining herself, using Ron’s datebook as her evidence, he reveals that the dates mentioned were a ploy to get her out of the house so he could surprise her for her birthday. The stage empties leaving Matt, their neighbor, and Ron alone to finish the show asking “When are you going to tell her about us?”

Our fourth, and final, play The Fellowship of Actors and Directors by Katherine Miller-Haines, from 2002, was a fun look behind the doors of a small theater company who clearly has no idea what it’s doing. Lights up on Devon hanging out in his New York City apartment when in barges his friend/assistant Eleanor alerting him that their theater has been shut down. They were supposed to be performing the winner of their play competition but Devon doesn’t seem worried about it until the director Willie announces all the actors have quit. Devon assures the gang that they don’t have to actually perform the play because the playwright is from Indiana; she’ll never know the difference. Then, the icing on the cake, the young and naïve playwright, Ann Marie Cummings (Bri Feingold) makes a surprise visit to see her play performed for the first time. Not wanting to completely ruin her trip after telling her the reality of the situation, Devon and a drunk Eleanor perform an abridged version of Ann Marie’s play after she gives them a quick overview during their preshow “talk back”.

The Fellowship of Actors of Directors stresses the importance of the arts and trying your best. That relates almost directly to the mission of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. PNWF is there to give writers and directors and actors an outlet to try new things. How often do you get to see a thirty minute one-act play? PNWF gives playwrights a stepping stone to move on to bigger and better things, whether that be expanding one of their existing one acts or starting from scratch on a new full length show.

Every weekend this September, the greater Pittsburgh area will welcome new plays written by playwrights all over the world. For more information on the festival itself, check out our previous article or their website.

Stay tuned for coverage on the upcoming festival in September! #TPSdoesPNWF