Enid Graham, Jeff Talbott, David Cote, Joshua Rollins, James Still and Jon Marans — writers whose work I’ve admired over the years — are among the 60 finalists of the 2015 National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. Their work, selected in a blind submission and adjudication process that included 1,300 entries this year, was announced the week of April 20, as were the names of eight playwrights and plays that will move on to staged readings on the O’Neill campus this summer in Waterford. CT.
The conference writers and plays that were deemed the cream of the crop, earning public readings in July, are: Josh Wilder’s Leftovers; Joe Waechter’s Good Ol’ Boys; Jenny Connell Davis’ End of Shift; Steven Sater’s No One’s Sonata; Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano; Ken Weitzman’s Halftime With Don; Carla Ching’s Nomad Motel; and Wendy MacLeod’s Slow Food, a play that I profiled earlier this year when it was read as part of the second annual Play-By-Play New Play Reading Series by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. (Seven of these plays rose through NPCs’ open submission process; Steven Sater’s is the one invited title.)
One of the great things about the NPC process is that it offers sunshine to all of the finalists by providing a Google site for the public posting of playwright contact and bio information and synopses and excerpts from the 60 top-rated plays. This open marketplace is read by industry folk and civilian fans of new plays.
“We hope this site will be a small way to lend our support to these writers and their work,” according to the O’Neill. “These plays rose through an anonymous, multilevel selection process with readers from the O’Neill family and our select Artistic Council. If you love new plays, we recommend you take a careful look through this list as it is the top 60 out of over 1,300, which we believe represents some of the best playwriting in the country today. The diversity and craft in this group is remarkable!”
Check out the full list of 2015 finalists.
The not-for-profit O’Neill Center is also kind enough to post the archive of past finalists, for those fishing for additional recent plays (like, for instance, my play Alabama Story, which was a 2014 NPC finalist and later had its world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company.)
Enid Graham and Jeff Talbott (Off-Broadway’s The Submission) were founding members of the 72nd Street Gang, a playwrights collective (of which I am also a member) that meets in Manhattan to share pages and offer informal critiques. Talbott’s A Public Education was read in the inaugural Play-By-Play series of Pioneer Theatre Company in March 2014 (here’s my chat with him about it) and was also read in NewTACTics, the new works reading series of TACT/The Actors Company Theatre in June 2014.) Gang member Kelli Kerslake Colaco’s You Are My Sunshine was an O’Neill NPC semi-finalist in 2014 and would later get a reading in San Francisco in anticipation of a full staging. My new play Two Henrys was an NPC semi-finalist earlier this year; check it out on NewPlayExchange.com.)
Here are Enid Graham and Jeff Talbott’s 2015 NPC Finalist titles:
A Public Education by Jeff Talbott
Luke Paxton is the new guy in the faculty room and he can’t wait to get started. But it feels more like a combat zone, because some pretty nasty things are being said on the Internet and fingers are being pointed everywhere. As pressure mounts, the real battlefield becomes one troubled student. So it’s hard for anybody to concentrate on classes. This is the world of A Public Education, a timely comic drama where the big question is: who is really getting schooled?
Jeff Talbott graduated with honors from the Yale School of Drama. His play The Submission was the inaugural recipient of the Laurents/Hatcher Award in 2011 and was produced Off-Broadway by MCC Theater; it also received the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Best New American Play in 2012. In December of 2014, a Chicago production was named one of the best of the year by the Chicago Tribune. The play was a semi-finalist for the 2010 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. His plays A Public Education, All the Stars in the Midnight Sky and Elliot have had developmental workshops and readings at MCC Theater, Pioneer Theatre Company and TACT/The Actors Company Theatre. His one-acts For Nate and Molly and Tender both received world premiere productions by the Yale Cabaret. He lives in New York City and has recently finished writing a new musical called Imagine Harry with composer Will Van Dyke, and they are working on something new.
What Martha Did by Enid Graham
A family gathers to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Martha’s celebrated book of essays. All except Martha, who killed herself soon after the book’s publication. Haunted by the past and events they can’t explain, her family struggles to move forward. How can they reconcile the Martha they knew who wrote so brilliantly about the joys of living, and the hidden Martha who ended her life? And how can they reconcile their own dreams of youth with the people they have become? And then a mysterious young woman arrives…
Enid Graham is writer (plays, screenplays and fiction) as well as an actress. Her recent writing projects include the plays What Martha Did, Ruth and For I Know the Plans I Have For You; the screenplay “Texas”; and short stories “Grandmother’s Body,” “Blind Spot” and “Galveston,” among others. Enid is a founding member of The 72nd Street Gang, a writers’ collective. Her many credits as an actress include Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (currently), Fortune’s Fool, Honour (Tony nomination Best Featured Actress), and Off-Broadway’s King Lear, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. Television: “Boardwalk Empire,” “Grey’s Anatomy.” Film: “Silver Tongues,” “Margaret,” “Margot at the Wedding,” among others. She lives in New York city with her husband and three sons.
Here are a handful of other 2015 NPC Finalist titles that caught my eye.
Hot Sauce Jesus by Joshua Rollins
On the south side of Chicago, Oz, the co-owner and proprietor of WINGZINGS, is deeply in debt and being pressured to sell out by the young pastor next door and his grand plans for the church and neighborhood. When a gunman opens fire in his restaurant, a bottle of hot sauce explodes on to the wall in the image of Jesus Christ. Oz senses a possible solution, even as Manuel, his young employee and confidant, starts bleeding from his hands and feet. Hot Sauce Jesus asks audiences to question their own pre-conceived notions of modern day religion, faith, and gentrification in the modern day.
Joshua Rollins’ play, Concealed Carry was selected for the 2013 Seven Devils’ Playwrighting Conference with ID Theatre. His play A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes debuted in Chicago in 2011 with Pine Box Theater Company to great acclaim and a sold-out run. It is in development for production in New Orleans and New York. Other works include American Rex, which premiered with Chicago Street Theatre and 25 Saints, which completed a run at Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre in Chicago in 2013 and a sold-out run with Azeotrope Theatre in Seattle. Darlin’ debuted in 2014 with StepUp Productions in Chicago. Hot Sauce Jesus was recently workshopped in Chicago at Chicago Dramatists and is currently being workshopped in Los Angeles. He currently has multiple television and film projects in development in Los Angeles and is represented by Paradigm Agency and managed by Nicholas Bogner at Affirmative Entertainment. I profiled Rollins in 2014, when his Darlin’ was premiering in Chicago.
Miranda by James Still
Miranda is a haunting, a thriller, a mind-bending existential crisis of a CIA operative who goes by many names. Who is she? What keeps her working in the Middle East after all these years? Why can’t she leave? Whose war is she fighting and who is the enemy? And how does she find herself directing a production of Othello in Yemen with teenagers…
James Still’s plays have been produced throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa, China and Japan. Recent premieres include Appoggiatura (Denver Center); The Widow Lincoln (Ford’s Theatre); The House That Jack Built (Indiana Rep); Illegal Use of Hands (American Blues in Chicago); and I Love to Eat (Portland Center Stage). New plays in development include Miranda (commissioned by Illusion in Minneapolis) and April 4, 1968 (commissioned by Indiana Rep). Still is a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, an elected member of the National Theatre Conference in New York and the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center, and a five-time Emmy nominee for his work in television. He received the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award from the William Inge Festival and the Todd McNerney New Play Prize from Spoleto. He is the Playwright in Residence at Indiana Repertory Theatre and lives in Los Angeles.
Otherland by David Cote
In a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, African-American college student Alice is waiting to meet her birth mother. From infancy, Alice was raised in New England by white bestselling memoirist Madeleine Holmes. In the same hotel, there’s a global botany symposium painstakingly organized by Professor Edgar Nunby. But the staff is on strike and half the rooms have busted plumbing. An eco-radical group called the Pangaea Liberation Front is mounting an Occupy Wall Street-style protest outside. Throw in a pot-dealing British-Pakistani concierge, a trigger-happy Chinese security guard and Madeleine herself — who shows up hell-bent on bringing Alice back home — and soon identities and agendas are clashing wildly. Otherland is a serious farce about roots, race, adoption and how you have to create your belonging.
David Cote is a playwright, librettist, lyricist and journalist. (You might know his byline as theatre editor and chief drama critic of Time Out New York and for appearances on NY1.) Otherland was commissioned by Gingold Theatrical Group and developed in readings with Laila Robins, Condola Rashad, Harriet Harris, Nikki M. James, Jeremy Shamos, Mirirai Sithole and others, directed by David Staller. Other plays include Rude News, Porlock and Aristotle’s Comedics. Opera libretti include Fade (2008) with composer Stefan Weisman; The Scarlet Ibis with Weisman, which headlined this year’s Prototype festival at HERE. Other libretti: Safe Word, The Companion and Masquerade with composer Robert Paterson, to be presented at BAM Fishman Space as Three Way in September 2016. He wrote the libretto for Nkeiru Okoye’s comic operetta We’ve Got Our Eye On You, commissioned by SUNY New Paltz; lyrics for Joshua Schmidt’s Impact/Winter (work-in-progress); and James Adler’s 3 Introspections (Albany Records, 2014). Two of his choral works with Paterson, Did You Hear? and Snow Day, were performed by Musica Sacra, conducted by Kent Tritle and included on “Eternal Reflections” (American Modern Recordings, 2015). His work has been developed by HERE, Beth Morrison Projects, American Opera Projects and Fort Worth Opera. Fellowships: The MacDowell Colony. Member of the Dramatists Guild and ASCAP. B.A. Bard College.
The Wrath of Connie by Jon Marans
The Wrath of Connie is a wild Front Page-like dark comedy taking place in 1991, which revolves around beloved TV icon, Connie Frederick, who had a huge, hit television variety show in the ’60s and ’70s, but not much success since then. So the network hires a bunch of edgy, twenty-and-thirty-something writers to try and make Connie just as edgy and outrageous/offensive as they are. Connie clearly draws the line of comedy in a very different place than they do, and she draws the line between what is appropriate behavior between men and women in a very different place as well. Connie soon realizes that her views need to shift if she hopes to fit into this modern world. But does she want to fit into it? And if so, how far will she go to fit in?
Jon Marans’ works include The Temperamentals, which ran for over eight months Off-Broadway, was nominated for a Lucille Lortel & Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway play and was a 2012 American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book in Literature. Old Wicked Songs, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama, ran for a season Off-Broadway, played in the West End starring Bob Hoskins and has been produced in over a dozen countries. Other shows include A Strange and Separate People, Jumping for Joy, Legacy of the Dragon Slayers, The Irrationals. Marans is currently rewriting the book to the musical Paint Your Wagon for the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle which will open there in May 2016. The Temperamentals is in film/TV development with Daryl Roth Productions. Marans is a recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship.
Turning Texas Blue by Jennifer Joan Thompson
Kirsten is the youngest state senator in Texas history and is about to announce her candidacy for governor. All she has to do is take care of that little green card marriage she agreed to in college – and convince the state’s biggest political donor her administration will be good for business. If only they both hadn’t shown up on the same day…as well as a writer and photographer from the Times. Can she toe the middle line? Be all things to all people? Keep everyone from falling in love with her gardener? Turning Texas Blue is a farce about the all-too-real insanity around debates over immigration, gay rights, north and south, red and blue.
Jennifer Joan Thompson is a writer, actor and scholar. Her plays have been workshopped and performed at Studio Tisch, Cap21, Yale University, and the Martin E. Segal Center among others. Turning Texas Blue was commissioned by Waterwell. Other plays include: Seized Up, Book Smart. Screenplays: “The F*ck Up,” “Meeting Michael Cera.” Acting credits include Broadway’s Dividing the Estate (Lincoln Center); Off Broadway’s Look Back In Anger (Roundabout) and White People (Ensemble Studio Theater) and work at The Pioneer Theatre, Indiana Rep, Geva, the Fulton and the Hangar Theatre. Television: “The Good Wife,” “Unforgettable.” She’s presented papers at IFTR, served as associate managing editor of European Stages, and will sit on panels at IFTR and ATHE. She currently teaches acting at Brooklyn College, holds a BA in History and Theatre Studies from Yale University, and an MFA in Acting from NYU.
Bookmarks by K. Frithjof Peterson
Grant and Katie are pretty content with life. They’re married, still like each other, and are employed, which — in Michigan — is an achievement. But when their closest friend, Travis, gets arrested for child pornography stored on his computer, they are forced to confront the fragility of the lives and identities they’ve constructed.
Frithjof Peterson’s work has been performed throughout the United States as well as translated and performed in Moscow, Russia. His plays have been finalists/semi-finalists for The Kennedy Center’s National Ten-Minute Play Award, the Heideman Award, the Samuel French OOB Festival, and The O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. His plays have been developed/produced with The Kennedy Center, WordBRIDGE, The Inkwell (D.C.), The Gift Theatre (Chicago) and Generous Company (Baltimore). Fox Valley Rep (IL) commissioned his play, We Traded Bosons Like Baseball Cards, which will receive its world premiere this fall in Chicago with Strange Bedfellows Theatre.
Welcome to Fear City by Kara Lee Corthron
It is July 1977 and the South Bronx is HOT: from a heat wave, from this new thing that would come to be known as “hip-hop,” and from an astounding number of fires burning the borough to the ground. E, a young African-American man, dreams of being a poet, but unemployment, a raging fiscal crisis, and a family on the brink of disaster drive him to ask a dangerous question: Can you love your ‘hood if you take part in its destruction? Welcome to Fear City is about a community trying to get by in the midst of crime, social apathy, poverty, and a whole new art form that’s about to electrify the world.
Kara Lee Corthron’s plays include Julius By Design (Fulcrum), Etched in Skin on a Sunlit Night (InterAct), Alicegraceanon (New Georges), Holly Down in Heaven (Forum Theatre, DC) and Listen for the Light. She’s the 2014-2015 Naked Angels Issues Project Resident Playwright. Awards include the Boomerang Fund for Artists Grant, 2012-2014 Women’s Project Lab Time Warner Fellowship, Vineyard’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, Princess Grace Award, Helen Merrill Award, three MacDowell fellowships, residencies at Skriuklaustur (Iceland), Djerassi, Hawthornden (Scotland), and the Millay Colony. Development: Ars Nova, Berkeley Rep, CenterStage (Baltimore), E.S.T., Haulbowline Theatre Group (Ireland), New Dramatists, New Georges, Orchard Project, P73, PlayPenn, Seven Devils (Guest Artist, 2012), South Coast Rep, the Vineyard and the Women’s Project. TV: Kings” (NBC-Universal, 2008-2009). Kara is also the author of the young adult novel, “The Distance From Me to You,” forthcoming from Simon & Schuster, 2016. She’s a Juilliard alumna.