(The Picket)– On Friday, March 11, just before spring break the Shepherdstown and Shepherd University community was presented with a taste of a rare treat. The Marinoff Theater was crowded with anticipating guests giving it a feel of Christmas morning as we were being presented with never-before-seen dramatic piece performances. The Contemporary American Theater Festival presented a set of preview readings for its 2016 summer season.
The Contemporary American Theater Festival is an annual event held each summer at Shepherd University and has been going on since 1991. This summer it will be the 26th year of performances. The Festival is dedicated to producing and developing new American Theater. This year’s plays include six unique new works that were given preview looks.
Our preview began with a monologue from “NOT MEDEA” by Allison Gregory featuring actress Kristen Trump as an audience member and single mom who steals the attention of the audience from the show they really came to see. The character is both comical and relatable.
The second Play “pen/man/ship” by Christina Anderson showed a more serious dramatic work, with a plot involving racial issues and rights. Featuring Freddie Bennett and John Hudson Odom as a strained father and son pair, this history-based play takes on the concept of a survey crew made up of black men mainly, sent to look at the establishment of a black prison colony by the U.S. government in Africa. The performers brought the difficult situation to life and made you feel for the father and son.
“The Second Girl” by Ronan Noone is a behind-the-stairs story of characters previously introduced as servants and minor character in Eugene O’Neil’s “Long Day’s Journey.” The knowledge of both pieces adds to the experience of the play. The scene presented showed the difficulties of Irish immigrant lives and how distance can change our lives. Eileen Waggoner’s Cathleen made me cry.
The next preview changed the tone completely with comedy. “The Wedding Gift,” by Chisa Hutchinson places a young man named Doug at a wedding not as a guest but as the gift. Doug cannot understand the language being used and has no idea where he is. The scene from this hilariously unbelievable story featured Adam Valentine as Doug and Ciara Monique McMillan as Ojah, the servant sent to see to the cleaning and preparations of the bride’s new present.
The final performance of the evening was a preview reading of “20th Century Blues” by Susan Miller, as read by the playwright herself. This was a rare treat, as it’s not often you can say I know what that line was supposed to sound like, I heard the writer say it. Susan gave wonderful voice to her full cast of four friends with vastly different lives that reunite yearly for a picture. Her performance was followed by an author’s Q&A.
The new summer season for CATF looks amazing and I look forward to seeing these works in full form. The festival will take place this July 8-21, 2016. This is an amazing opportunity for anyone to see the next award winning show before the rest of the world does.
Jessica Sharpless can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org