Three works by female playwrights were selected from 300 submissions to be read.
The 2019 “Modern Works Festival” recently wrapped at Urbanite Theatre. The festival showcased three works in progress by up-and-coming female playwrights, selected from more than 300 submissions from around the country.
Entertainment and edification aside, the festival’s staged readings functioned as research and development for the authors. It’s one thing (and a hard thing) to put words on paper. It’s another thing (and even harder) to speak those words before a live audience and see what works. So what did? The festival jury awarded the $3,000 grand prize to Sam Collier; Carey Crim and Marjorie Muller each received $500 runner-up prizes. A tough decision to make — all three of their plays were strong. (Based on festival feedback, they can only get stronger.) Here’s my take on the scripts at the time of performance.
Sam Collier, “Daisy Violet, the Bitch Beast King”
Directed by India Marie Paul. With Kennedy Joy Foristall, Nicole Hamilton, Doug Jones, and Jim Sorensen.
Collier's winning play is black comedy at its blackest. The first act resembles a scary children’s bedtime story as told by Ionesco. Two sisters get their dresses dirty. Lacking a third sister to blame, they create one with a magic spell they found with the aid of Siri. The eponymous Daisy Violet is born and quickly starts growing. Primitive at first, the voracious Daisy eats the family cat, her father’s arm, her mother’s head and various needful body parts belonging to teachers, psychologists and other sexist authority figures. The girls celebrate by smearing a room with their late mother’s beauty products. The second act refracts Collier’s weird parable through a realistic lens. The sisters are all grown up now, looking back on their surreal childhoods. What happened exactly? It depends on which sister you ask. Like “Rashomon,” the play’s conclusion questions the reliability of memory and perception. One sister tries to recreate the gleeful destruction of consumer goods as a performance art piece. It might be a false memory, but her show goes on.
Carey Crim, “The Last Broadcast”
Directed by Summer Dawn Wallace. With Brooke Tyler Benson, Jordan Boyer, Jen Diaz and Terri Weagner.
"The truth shall set you free.” So the Bible says, but really? “The Last Broadcast” explores the collateral damage of a well-intentioned lie. Specifically, Hannah shot her father in the face when she was a toddler. Hannah’s grandfather, a belligerent, alcoholic radio personality, left a loaded gun where she could find it. The killing isn't her fault — and it's not in her memory. Hannah’s mind blanked out the incident. Once her mother and grandfather realized this, they papered it over with a false memory. But she grows up damaged. Hannah’s subconscious mind gnaws on the repressed horror. Her days are filled with anxiety attacks. At night, she’s subject to dangerous sleepwalking incidents. One day, the truth finally comes out. Does it set Hannah free? Not necessarily. Crim’s play boasts razor-sharp dialog and X-Ray vision into the human soul.
Marjorie Muller, “Regular”
Directed by Vickie Daignault. With Ashley Chang, Charlie Klenk, Katelyn McKelley, Paul Michael Thomson, and Carolyn Zaput.
Muller's script is hard to define, so let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. The playwright describes her work as “a slow burn that begins as a character study and unravels into a mystery.” I won’t try to improve on that. The fuse is lit when Kate arrives in an unnamed town — the first new resident in a decade. She gets a low-level job at a local factory and a cheap apartment on the outskirts of town. All Kate wants is a regular life. Period. Kate’s life goes on, but it’s never quite regular. The people who she meets all think they have seen her someplace before. They try to unravel her mystery and wind up spilling their own secrets. Kate becomes the town’s de facto therapist — and slowly gets stuck in the townsfolks’ drama. The play feels like a David Lynch fever dream at first, but there’s an all-too-real explanation. Without spoiling the mystery, it revolves around addiction and abduction. It’s familiar territory, but the playwright tackles it like it’s brand new to her. No cliches, no tropes, just a painfully honest story.