Kenneth Jones’ new play Hollywood, Nebraska, a rueful comedy about two fortysomething actresses and former schoolmates returning to their small-town roots for separate family emergencies, is one of four titles in the June 2016 NewTACTics New Play Festival June 8-30 in Manhattan. The series presented by Off-Broadway’s TACT/The Actors Company Theatre kicks off June 8-9 with Jeff Keilholtz’s Bad Fiction, followed by Hollywood, Nebraska June 15-16, Jeff Talbott’s How to Build a City June 22-23 and Kate Robin’s Mr. Bigger’s Baby June 29-30.
Each playwright gets 29 hours to rehearse and present their new works in free public staged readings with actors culled from TACT’s resident company and the New York theatre community at large. All presentations are at 7 PM in the TACT Studio at 900 Broadway, ninth floor. Make reservations here.
Here’s how the six-actor Hollywood, Nebraska is billed: “In the panhandle of Nebraska, two actresses of a certain age are making a homecoming in their small town. Jane’s in from L.A. to check up on her ailing mother. Andrea’s back from New York to bury her father. A new rueful yet romantic comedy about the urge to be creative, the itch to move away and the ache of reconnecting with the family, friends and feelings that you thought you left behind.” (Ask for a perusal copy of the script.)
Veteran New York City and regional director Susan Fenichell, artistic director of Hopeful Monsters, a collaborative performance group, will direct the staged reading.
Both Jones and Jeff Talbott are alumni writers of NewTACTics. Talbott’s The Gravedigger’s Lullaby, A Public Education and All the Stars in the Midnight Sky were presented in pasts festivals. (It’s a busy month for Talbott; his Three Rules for the Dragon is getting a developmental reading by Premiere Stages in New Jersey June 17-19.) Jones’ Alabama Story had a reading there in 2014 before it went on to its 2015 world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City and a life in regional theatres.
Owen Thompson is the producer of NewTACTics. Yetti Steinman is co-producer of NewTACTics. Lauren Miller is NewTACTics advisor. TACT/The Actors Company Theatre is led by executive artistic director Scott Alan Evans and associate artistic directors Nora Chester and Jeffrey Hawkins.
Here’s the 2016 NewTACTics plays and writers at a glance:
By Jeff Keilholtz
Directed by Owen Thompson
7 PM June 8-9
“The bullets fly on the streets of crime-ridden Chicago: some directly at charismatic, crusading, would-be State’s Attorney Alexander Tyson, who’s now on the verge of winning a major election as a result of surviving an assassination attempt. But not everything is as it seems as four antagonists — a woman with a battered face, a cop with a checkered past, an ambitious campaign manager, and a cunning political lawyer — clash over what really went down that fateful day. Bad Fiction leads the audience into a dangerous and twist-filled world where the person you trust the most just might be your worst enemy.”
Keilholtz is a writer based out of New York City. His first full-length play, Nightswimming, was produced at Access Theatre by At Hand Theater Company and subsequently workshopped with Millennium Talent Group at Manhattan Ensemble Theatre. It was was optioned as a screenplay by L.I.F.T. Productions (William Friedkin’s “Bug”) and later by Louisiana Film Consultants (“The Mist”). Keilholtz’s new screenplay, an account of the San Francisco Chronicle Reporter who exposed Reverend Jim Jones and Peoples Temple Church, is in feature film development. His new book “A Boy From Brooklyn: Clinton Simpson and the Orphan Train” is now available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com. Keilholtz has degrees in sociology and psychology and has worked as a political professional.
By Kenneth Jones
Directed by Susan Fenichell
7 PM June 15-16
“In the panhandle of Nebraska, two actresses of a certain age are making a homecoming in their small town. Jane’s in from L.A. to check up on her ailing mother. Andrea’s back from New York to bury her father. A new rueful romantic comedy about the urge to be creative, the itch to move away and the ache of reconnecting with the family, friends and feelings that you thought you left behind.”
Kenneth Jones is a playwright, librettist and lyricist. His play Alabama Story, developed in NewTACTics in 2014, was a 2014 finalist in the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and a 2016 nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. It had its world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company in 2015 and this year will have productions in Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. His play Two Henrys, a semi-finalist in the 2015 and 2016 O’Neill Playwrights Conferences, was seen in Pioneer’s 2016 Play-By- Play series and had private table readings by Florida Studio Theatre and TACT. With Karen Azenberg, he co-conceived Pioneer’s 2015 holiday musical It Happened One Christmas. His darkly comic Christmas revue Naughty/Nice (with composer Gerald Stockstill) is published by stagerights.com and was a NAMT festival sem-finalist and helped the team win the Dottie Burman Award from MAC. His musical Voice of the City (with composer Elaine Chelton) was developed in readings by York Theatre Company and Human Race Theatre Company. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, BMI and The 72nd Street Playwrights Collective. He writes about his own plays and advocates for other dramatists, new plays and theatre makers at his website ByKennethJones.com.
How to Build a City
By Jeff Talbott
Directed by Wes Grantom
7 PM June 22-23
“What happens when you have to balance the needs of a parent against the needs of your partner and your friends — and both are pulling you apart? In the middle of the night, Davis grapples with trying to shoulder the weight of making everyone happy and keeping everyone safe. But will trying to do it by himself cut him off from his loved ones and leave him truly alone? How to Build a City is a serious comedy about the family we have and the family we make, and how to recognize they’re exactly the same thing.”
Jeff Talbott’s play The Submission was the inaugural recipient of the Laurents/Hatcher Award in 2011 and was produced off-Broadway by MCC Theater; it went on to receive the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for New American Play in 2012. His play The Gravedigger’s Lullaby will get its world premiere Off-Broadway in winter 2017. Three Rules for the Dragon was a finalist for the 2016 O’Neill Conference and will have a workshop in June at Premiere Stages at Keen University in New Jersey. Other plays include A Public Education (finalist for the 2015 O’Neill Playwrights Conference; workshops at Pioneer Theatre Company and TACT), How to Build a City (reading – Route 66 in Chicago), Elliot (readings – Crowded Outlet, MCC Theater), All the Stars in the Midnight Sky (workshops – MCC, TACT) and the just-completed i. He writes musicals with composer Will Van Dyke. Their musical Imagine Harry was presented in the 2015 NAMT Festival of New Musicals, and was a semi-finalist for the 2015 O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference as well as a finalist for the 2014 Rheinbeck Writers Retreat. They released an EP of their work in September of 2015 called “A View of the River” (available on iTunes or wherever digital music is sold). They recently were part of the Goodspeed’s 2016 Johnny Mercer Writers Colony finishing a draft of their latest musical, Wintersong. Talbott graduated with honors from the Yale School of Drama.
Mr. Bigger’s Baby
By Kate Robin
Directed by Scott Alan Evans
7 PM June 29-30
“The Cohen family tell each other jokes, rehash past history, and desperately try to stay intact as their elderly father struggles for his life amid the baffling bureaucracy of a modern hospital. Will he survive? Will his family? Mr. Bigger’s Baby is a hilariously harrowing and very human look at how we cope with mortality … and our closest relatives.”
Kate Robin is an award-winning playwright and TV writer. Theatre productions include Anon., Inside Play (Atlantic Theater Co.), What They Have (South Coast Rep), Intrigue With Faye (MCC), I See You, The Light Outside (The Flea), Swimming in March (The Market Theater, winner IRNE Best Play of 2001 award), Bride Stripped Bare (ThreadWaxing Space), Given Away (The Playwright’s Collective). Her plays have been commissioned and developed by SCR, MTC, Playwrights Horizons, NYTW, Atlantic Theater, O’Neill National Playwrights’ Conference, JAW/West at Portland Stage and EST. Television and film work includes “The Affair” (Showtime, writer/co-executive producer), “Six Feet Under” (HBO, writer/supervising producer) and “Coming Soon.” She was a Princess Grace Fellow, received the 2003 Princess Grace Statuette for playwriting, and is an alumna of New Dramatists. Robin is currently show-running “One Mississippi,” Tig Notaro’s new show on Amazon.
In addition to NewTACTics, TACT presents “salon readings” of classic plays in its intimate TACT Studio, as well as two full Off-Broadway productions per season at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row. (I wrote about its rare revival of William Inge’s Natural Affection in 2013.)