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New plays see the light in the Players’ Black Box festival

for The Brooklyn Paper
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From September through May, the Gallery Players’ stage is devoted to revivals of classic and contemporary plays and musicals. But in June, the stage is turned over to emerging playwrights from all over the tri-state area.

The Black Box New Plays Festival, now in its sixth year, provides workshop environments for playwrights, who work in collaboration with directors, actors and producers. This year, Heather Curran became the producer of the festival after Sidney Fortner stepped down due to other commitments.

"We’ve really focused this year on play development," said Curran, who has both acted and directed with the Gallery Players several times and is now a member of the board. "Every playwright will come in at a different stage in development. We are interested in working with playwrights who are interested in working on their plays. The festival is a culmination of this work."

Each weekend, from May 29 through June 22, a separate "box" is administered by its own dramaturge, who ensures each box is what Curran calls "a cohesive evening of theater," and plays are grouped appropriately.

Dramaturges also act as liaisons between playwrights and director.

"The dramaturge makes sure that what the playwright has to say is up there on the stage," says Curran.

Over the years, several playwrights have established an ongoing relationship with the festival.

Joe Lauinger, a 55-year-old professor of dramatic literature at Sarah Lawrence College, has had a play in the Black Box series every year of its existence.

"I like the people and the respect they give the playwright," he says.

This year, Lauinger’s full-length "Holy Child" will be presented in Box 1 (May 29 - June 1) and his two one-acts, "Mushroom Pie" and "Fish Pond," will be presented in Box 4 (June 19-22).

"Holy Child" is about an alcoholic Italian-American priest who goes to the Holy Child home to be rehabilitated.

In Act I, he meets his three brothers, a lawyer, a neighborhood businessman and a high school basketball coach and womanizer. In Act II, his brothers visit the home.

"It’s about family love and the ways in which one finds how to believe in life again," explains Lauinger.

"Holy Child" began life as a one-act, but after its initial reading, director Heather Curran suggested the piece might be developed into a full-length play.

"We worked on it, and it grew into a well-crafted piece," says Lauinger. "I couldn’t have done it without Heather."

"Mushroom Pie," which Lauinger calls "a send-up of the yuppie lifestyle," is about a couple that finds a special mushroom and cooks up the perfect dish with it.

"The Fish Pond" is about a couple that disagrees over what they see and what they don’t see in a fish pond. Both one-acts are directed by Jonathan Summey.

Staci Sweeden is now in her fifth year with Black Box. "Requiescut In Pace (R.I.P.)" in Box 2 (June 5-8), directed by Matt Schicker, is about a young girl who orchestrates the funeral of her parakeet, and her divorced parents who unexpectedly meet at the funeral.

"Deux Femmes, Un Homme," about a dinner party among close friends, and "Good Vibrations," about three women, sex and a writers’ colony in Florida, are both in Box 3 (June 5-8) and are both directed by Yvonne Conybeare.

"She’s directed many of my pieces," says Sweeden, who is also a visiting guest artist at the Stanford Center for the Arts. "As long as she’s willing to direct my pieces, I’m willing to return, because she’s so good at it."

This is the second year for Joshua Scher, 27, whose one-act, "Flushed," a comedy that takes place in the men’s room of the Peter Luger Steak House in Williamsburg, will be presented in Box 3 (June 12-15).

Scher says he is grateful for the space and the community provided by the Gallery Players.

"It’s a great place to have a production. And productions are always helpful," he says.

Curran believes what makes the Black Box Festival special is its focus on the process.

"In other festivals, playwrights send the play in, get to come on opening night and may or may not like what they see. We focus on meeting, interviewing and talking to the playwright. We give readings. We get feedback. Dramaturges get involved very early in the process, even helping to select directors," says Curran.

For Sweeden, however, it’s all about leadership and meeting the "challenge to keep things fresh, moving forward and new."

Surely, many theater-goers will agree that at a time when most commercial theater is unwilling to take risks with new work, it’s a pleasure to see a group willing to take a step into the void.

 

The Gallery Players presents the Black Box New Plays Festival, May 29-June 22, at 199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays, at 8 pm, and Sundays, at 3 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for children under 12 and seniors. A festival pass is available for $20. For reservations, call (718) 595-0547.

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