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Park Slope’s Gallery Players premieres 14 plays in June’s ‘Black Box New Play Fest

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Gallery Players’ eighth annual “Black Box New Play Festival” promises to offer something different this season: a unique theme for each of the four weekends, allowing for a more cohesive theater experience while remaining true to the festival’s eclectic spirit. The Festival, produced by Gallery Players President Heather Siobhan Curran runs for four weekends in June.

The first weekend (June 2-5) is titled “Brooklyn Plays-Brooklyn Playwrights,” and focuses on people who are residents of Brooklyn or writing about Brooklyn, Curran told GO Brooklyn.

The second weekend (June 9-12) is called “The Sex Box” and, says Curran, “all of the plays explore themes of sexuality.” The third weekend (June 16-19), “Heaven and Earth,” is a “catch-all,” which Curran says includes plays about space-travel (Heaven) and relationships (Earth).

In an effort to reach out to the entire family, the Gallery Players have decided to dedicate the fourth weekend (June 23-26), “The Sandbox,” to plays for children.

“It feels good to get children into the theater,” says Curran. “They’re the future generation of theater-goers.”
Michael Bettencourt’s one-act, “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” based on Thomas Wolfe’s short story of the same title, will be presented the first weekend. Bettencourt says that he was “inspired” by Wolfe’s story but changed the direction by making his play “a quest to know something.”

In the original story, a young man wants to go to different areas of Brooklyn because he likes their names. He has just visited Red Hook and wants to go to Bensonhurst. In this story, Bettencourt believes Wolfe is asking “how a writer can know anything completely. And his answer is, ‘he can’t.’”

In Bettencourt’s play, which makes some unexpected twists, he takes the position that “none of us can know everything completely, but as humans we have to try to know something.”

The second weekend’s program also includes one of Bettencourt’s plays: “Sporting Goods.” This one-act takes the form of a monologue delivered by a young wrestler during a match.

“The young man is comfortable with his homosexuality because he can get the kind of touch he wants while wrestling, but the man he is wrestling with doesn’t know he has those same desires,” says Bettencourt. “In the end, the wrestling becomes an emotional wrestling.”

Also on the bill that weekend is “Bibbity Bobbity Boo,” written by Park Sloper Charlotte Winters. She collaborated with her half-brother, George, to write this “tongue-in-cheek, coming-of-age story” about a boy named Johnny who learns that he is gay when a fairy visits him one night and brings him the news.

“Johnny goes through a gamut of emotions,” says Winters. “The story is about how he goes from denial to acceptance.”
Jennifer Palumbo, who also lives in Park Slope, was commissioned to write “The Runaway Birthday and Melvin the Meek” for “The Sandbox” weekend. Palumbo, who is also on the board of the Brooklyn Family Theatre (BFT), first came to Curran’s attention through a play she’d written for that group, “How Peanut Butter Met Jelly.” BFT co-founder Lorraine Stobbe showed the play to Curran, and Curran liked it so much she asked Palumbo to write a play for the Black Box Festival.
“[‘The Runaway Birthday and Melvin the Meek’] is about a princess who is not going to be queen because her brother, Melvin, gets to be king,” Palumbo explains.

“She’s a little bitter about that. In order to get more attention, she makes a wish that her birthday is every single day. Everyone in town ages a year every time they celebrate her birthday. Within a year, the king and queen retire and Melvin takes over. Because he’s not prepared, he makes terrible decisions.”

Aside from Palumbo’s play, which was subsidized by the Park Slope Civic Council, the shows in the Black Box Festival are no-frills productions. One set suffices for the entire weekend, with “furniture and set dressing brought in to change locales,” says Curran.

But the Gallery Players spare no time and effort when it comes to working with playwrights to develop their ideas.
“Each year I receive better and better plays,” says Curran.

“And each year we give our audiences better and better quality productions.”


The Gallery Players’ “Black Box New Play Festival” runs June 2-26 at 199 14th St., between Fourth and Fifth avenues, in Park Slope. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. “The Sandbox” weekend will have two shows, at 3 pm and 8 pm, on Saturday, June 25. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children under 12 and seniors. A festival pass, which admits a patron to one performance on each of the four weekends, can be purchased for $20. For a full schedule of plays and to make reservations, call (718) 595-0547 or visit www.galleryplayers.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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