The Baltimore Playwrights Festival has always been dedicated to premieres, but this summer it will include a first of a different kind. The 2003 festival will feature its first revival - a reprise of the late Carol Weinberg's 1994 prize-winning script, To Get to the Other Side, to be produced at Goucher College.
Citing the cooperative effort between the festival and Goucher as an "exciting" new direction, festival chairman Rodney S. Bonds said, "Goucher is beginning the seeds of a project to reach out to college-aged authors and playwrights, and we envision that the BPF-Goucher partnership will expand to include some other higher educational institutions. ... We're hoping this is going to turn into a whole sub-genre of the BPF."
The core of the festival, however, will remain new plays, and this summer six area theaters will produce nine scripts, selected from 88 submissions.
Here's the lineup:
Ella's Song, by Jim Cary. A drama with music by Jim Emberger based on the life of North Carolina textile worker and strike leader Ella Mae Wiggins. Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. June 26-July 13.
View Through Quarter Pane, by Cybele Pomeroy. A look at love, from 1917 vaudeville to modern-day television. Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, July 10-20.
Ten Reasons Why Big Betty is Stuck on the Side of the Road in a Little Pink Dress, by Dahlia Kaminsky and PS Lorio. A stranded couple discovers the diary of an overweight woman and assumes the parts of 14 different characters in Big Betty's wild, crazy and touching adventures. Mobtown Players at LeClerc Hall, College of Notre Dame, 4701 N. Charles St. July 10-27.
Hell Incorporated, by Steve Klepper. Condemned lawyers and ad execs join forces to stage a takeover of heaven. Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St. July 11-26.
Turtle Soup, by Anne M. Lefter. An account of four women whose friendship is challenged during an annual visit to a cabin in West Virginia. Uncommon Voices at Fell's Point Corner. July 17-Aug. 3.
Missing Phil, by PS Lorio. A long-term relationship between two women is threatened, but ultimately reinforced, when the ailing father of one becomes a permanent part of the household. Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway. July 25-Aug. 10
To Get to the Other Side, by Carol Weinberg. A coming-of-age drama about an inter-racial friendship. Goucher College Full Circle Theatre, Meyerhoff Arts Center, Goucher, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. July 24-27 and Sept. 5-7.
For the Return of Albion, by Mike Field. A biographical play about Shakespeare's contemporary and rival, Ben Jonson. Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts. July 31-Aug. 10.
Trenches, by W.J. Goldie. The story of the family of a resistance fighter in 1940 Warsaw. Fell's Point Corner. Aug. 7-24.
Fifty/Fifty, by Rich Espey. A glimpse into the life of a girls' school headmaster who appears to have everything until he is confronted by his past. Spotlighters. Aug. 8-23.
Individual tickets cost $10-$15. A book of six tickets that can be used for any performance costs $45. Call 410-276-2153.
New kids in town
Company Thirteen, the city's newest little theater troupe, is mounting an old chestnut, but director W.M. Yarbrough III and his cast have such a novel approach to the material, it feels startlingly fresh.
The play is Twelve Angry Men, the stage adaptation of Reginald Rose's 1954 TV drama in which a dozen jurors, locked in a room, must decide the fate of a teen-ager accused of killing his father. The most innovative aspect of Company Thirteen's production is that, due to the informal configuration of the theater, the audience shares the jury room with the actors.
Seated on sofas and easy chairs on three sides of the playing area, theatergoers are so close to the action that, on opening night, a legal pad tossed by a juror could easily have been caught by a member of the audience. Indeed, the theatergoers are like silent members of the embattled jury, inhabiting the same space, getting caught up in the arguments, and denied only the chance to vote.
The jury that director Yarbrough has empanelled includes a couple of women, but the script is adhered to pretty faithfully in other respects. The actors mill about as if the audience weren't there. This means that at times you can't see the faces of the speakers, but the raw naturalness of the effect compensates for the occasional inconvenience.
The youthful cast, ably headed by Scott Graham, as the reasonable but relentless initial holdout, brings robust spirit to the drama. And the actors' overall intensity leaves no doubt that the play's central issue - whether to condemn a potentially innocent man to death or risk setting a murderer free to kill again - is as timely as ever.
Judging from Company Thirteen's invigorating take on Twelve Angry Men, this tiny troupe, tucked away in a third floor walk-up in Hamilton, is a bright, spirited addition to Baltimore's theater scene.