The Baltimore Playwrights Festival has concluded its 10th season. This year, 52 original scripts by Baltimore playwrights were submitted. From these, local theaters selected nine for production.
Short dramas about personal relationships and people caught up in the everyday treadmill of life predominated the better presentations.
The following is a breakdown of what this columnist considers the best of the festival.
"The Naked House Painting Society" by Robert H. Bowie Jr., produced by the Spotlighters. This is Bowie's finest work so far and easily is the festival's best. This riveting little drama with genuine humor, and only four characters, centers on the intense relationships of two middle-aged married couples who seem to be "best friends." But are they? They are reunited after a 10-year separation, and slowly the gripping truth unfolds. Mystical in nature, the play turns on incisive philosophical dialogue. Directed by Jeffrey M. Heller, actors Mark E. Campion, Willie Brookes and Laura McFarland give outstanding performances.
"Alley Apples" by Herman Kemper, produced by the Fells Point Corner Theatre. This work, based on the playwright's own experiences, contains strong character studies and good dialogue. The play is set around the time of the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Prejudice and segre gationplay a big part in this drama flecked with earthy humor. A father rears his three sons after his wife dies with disastrous results. Richard Jackson direction is the best of the festival. Paul Ellis, Bob Nelson, Tom Nolte and Wayne Knickel are outstanding in their performances.
"Whistle the Devil" by Kathleen Barber, produced by the Fells Point Corner Theatre. This engrossing and funny work is about the conflicts between three sisters working in the family business. Wisecracking and good-natured Gail is obsessed with her job. Bonnie is indifferent but older sister Margaret, an emotionally disturbed woman, is consumed with jealousy and hatred for Gail. Act I is strong. Act II crashes. The dialogue is sharp. Susan Kramer directs. Trish Blackburn and Tony Colavito give strong performances.
"Murder Case," by Lance Woods, produced by the Vagabond Players. This frothy, clever tongue-in-cheek work has sharp bantering dialogue, unexpected twists and good physical schtick. The story takes place in a mansion on a winery estate. Various nefarious persons plot to kill the arrogant head of the town's winery, a slick character who sardonically sneers at them all. The decent script is obscured by poor direction and performances.
"Life in the Last Act" by Robert Dunn, produced by the Vagabond Players. This one-act play, avant-garde in nature, focuses on a group of well-dressed people who seem to be waiting for something (fate? death?) in a hole-in-the wall bar known as The Last Act. Every time the phone rings all look with dread at the instrument. When someone answers he or she leaves mysteriously. The play's dialogue is intelligent, sophisticated and insightful. The ambience of a lost hell is effectively set by the fine direction of Steve Goldklang and a first-rate cast: Tom Lodge, Vince Kimball, Joe Moore, Gloria Henderson, Darlene Deardorff, Diane Finlayson and Craig Newell.
It might be a good idea to occasionally stage the best of the festival's scripts after they have been reworked by the playwrights. To date, they are produced once and Baltimore theatergoers never see them again.
Writers submitting original scripts to the festival must be (or have been) residents of Maryland. For further information on play submission and requirements, call the Baltimore Playwrights Festival at 563-9135.