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Unplugged allows Asolo Rep audience to plug in to up-and-coming plays

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  • | 4:00 a.m. April 10, 2013
Dramaturg Lauryn Sasso, actress and guest artist Gail Rastorfer, FSU/Asolo Conservatory third-year student Erin Whitney and Stage Manager Kelly Borgia rehearse with playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer and director Sean Daniels (not pictured).
Dramaturg Lauryn Sasso, actress and guest artist Gail Rastorfer, FSU/Asolo Conservatory third-year student Erin Whitney and Stage Manager Kelly Borgia rehearse with playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer and director Sean Daniels (not pictured).
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The Havasupai Indians call the burnt-orange cliffs of the Grand Canyon home, and their tribe’s oral history suggests they emanated from the vast natural wonder, said to be the tribe’s guardian. That is, until DNA test results from Arizona State University suggested their ancestors actually crossed the frozen Bering Sea to arrive in North America. It was devastating news to the Havasupai.

The 2010 court case, Havasupai Tribe v. Arizona State University Board of Regents, inspired playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer’s newest script, “Informed Consent.”

Laufer was present April 6, when company members of Asolo Repertory Theatre and FSU/Asolo Conservatory students at “Unplugged” read the script of her play. The audience gave Laufer feedback during the talkback session following the reading.

“Unplugged” is a relatively new festival that allows upcoming playwrights to test drive their current and still-being-developed scripts on a Sarasota audience. The playwrights are present for the readings that take place through April 27.

The mostly New York-based playwrights who attend are on the rise, and the Sarasota audience gets a glimpse of these productions before the final work premieres.

It was Laufer’s first time participating in Asolo Rep’s fourth annual play festival. Her play examines the questions that arise in today’s society because universally accessible DNA testing allows more answers than ever before: If you were predisposed to early onset Alzheimer’s, would you test your 4-year-old child to find out if they are, too?

It just so happens that ARCpoint Labs in Sarasota offers individuals DNA testing services — and Laufer was able to do on-site research during her visit to Sarasota.

Her connection to Asolo Rep comes through her friend and colleague, Sean Daniels. Daniels directed the reading in Sarasota, and the duo will premiere the play next spring in Rochester, N.Y. Daniels’ mother, Kathy Daniels, is a Sarasota resident.

“The Sarasota audience will have a large chance to influence where the script is going, and its impact on it is a really big deal,” Sean Daniels said before the reading.

Sean Daniels participated last year when he directed Steven Drukman’s play “Death of the Author.” Drukman will be back this year, but this time, Daniels is directing Laufer’s script and Greg Leaming, assistant artistic director of Asolo Repertory Theatre and director of FSU/Asolo Conservatory, will direct Drukman’s newest in-the-works script. On April 27, a reading of Drukman’s play “Marquis Aurelius,” will take place under the direction of Leaming.

Drukman’s play is about two college-aged Midwestern men: a black football player on the track to success and a white drug dealer with fewer opportunities. It’s about teamwork and communication, and Drukman says he wrote it in a style completely different than his norm. Instead of an intricate plot, he took a nod from playwright Annie Baker’s style and peeled away the fourth wall to explore the space with the audience  — which is why he appreciates feedback.

“Any sort of developmental scrutiny is good for a new play, and putting it in front of an audience is a bonus,” Drukman says. “Michael (Donald Edwards) and Greg (Leaming) have cultivated a really good audience, it seems to me.”

His first play that underwent the “Unplugged” process was “The Innocents,” and it proved successful. It premiered in the 2010 season at Asolo Rep. In 2014, “Death of the Author” is being produced in Los Angeles.

Also this year, playwright Rogelio Martinez will participate in “Unplugged” for his second time. In 2010, he chose to workshop his piece called “Fizz.” He found the process to be a helpful experience.

His newest play, “When Tang Met Laika,” is about the end of The Cold War and the space collaboration between the Russians and Americans. The title comes from Laika, the first dog sent into space.

Although parts went beautifully in a different version of this play, which was presented last year in Denver, Martinez felt there were other parts that needed to be taken back to the drawing board. The version being presented is the result of his extended work on the piece. He’s excited to present it in front of an audience April 12, and to see how the audience receives it this time around.

“The different thing about being a playwright is that your learning happens in public,” he says. “You can write your play at home, but you need to feel the temperature of the room.”

If you go
Fourth annual New Play Festival Unplugged
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 12 “When Tang Met Laika,” by Rogelio Martinez and directed by Brendon Fox; 8 p.m. Saturday, April 27 “Marquis Aurelius,” by Steven Drukman and directed by Greg Leaming
Where: Asolo Rep Rehearsal Hall at FSU/Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Individual readings, $7. Festival pass, $21
Info: Call 351-9010 for more information

Famed playwright John Guare talks about his new play — kind of
John Guare is the only Tony-award winner attending this year’s “Unplugged” at Asolo Rep. His readings take place April 18 and April 19, at Historic Asolo Theater. Guare is known for his plays, “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Landscape of the Body” and “The House of Blue Leaves.”

He’s coming to Sarasota because, in 2010, he received the Greenfield Prize, an annual award that gives an artist $30,000 as a commission for a piece to premiere at a Sarasota venue. Guare has had two years to develop his piece.

Guare worked on his still-being-developed play, “Eddie in the Andes,” for 10 days at Hermitage Artist Retreat, where he assembled notes and found his footing.

He won’t reveal too much about it because he says it’s a new play that he’s still discovering and that he’s still in the middle. But, Guare did give some hints:

He wrote about an hour of script, which he says is about halfway through. It takes place in South America — a place 75-year-old Guare visited when he was in his 40s.

“(The play) reviews something that happened to me 25 years ago in South America that I only very recently began to understand,” Guare says.

The Greenfield Prize award allowed him to take two trips to Latin America to relive what happened 28 years ago and to “get the details right.”

He returned from his second trip to Bolivia in November and spent the next two months working on it.

“I’ve never written a play like this before, so my process is quite different,” he says. This play is more reality based than others.

Even if he won’t speak much about it now, Sarasota will be the first to hear a reading and, through feedback, could help develop the route the famed playwright’s script takes to end its journey.

‘Eddie in the Andes’ by John Guare; directed by Michael Donald Edwards
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 18 and 2 p.m. Friday, April 19
Where: Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road
Cost: Individual readings, $7. Festival pass, $21
Info: Call 351-9010 for more information


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