I have the privilege of working with talented theatre artists – most recently, the newly minted alumni MFA Dramatic Writers from the School of Dramatic Arts at USC. This week there is an ongoing “New Works Festival” of plays written by the recent graduates. The thesis plays, by the three writers, Nahal Navidar, Brian James Polak and Jesse Mu-En Shao, are directed by established Los Angeles directors, cast with professional actors and presented as concert-style readings in the McClintock Theatre at the corner of Jefferson and McClintock.
Those are the facts, but what has happened, gradually over the past several years and most successfully to date this year, is that a community of directors and playwrights and dramaturgs fill the 90 seat house with enthusiasm and an expectation which is palpable. The plays are each presented twice, in rotation through the course of the second week, the first week having been devoted to rehearsals and several days where the writers go away and work again on their scripts. What happens is a wee bit of alchemy – talented readers and eager writers percolate, stirred by directors who have both willingness and skill to forge new plays made better in the creative cauldron. And the audience is there on the front lines to witness the birth of these new plays. Not only witness, but have direct feedback following the readings to respond. And with an audience of playwrights, dramaturges and directors as well as actors and interested general audience members, the comments are insightful. They take what you have just heard and spin it around so you can look at it from a number of perspectives that you might not have considered. Oh, and did I mention it is free?
Last night’s play, “Pairi Daiza” by Nahal Navidar, is set in Iran in 1981, on the eve of revolution with three characters united in circumstance, separated and ultimate unified by their experiences and challenges.
Tonight’s play, “Henry and the Hippocampus” by Brian James Polak unfurls the elaborate dance of three characters, a man who has lost all ability to form new memories, his wife, a professional dancer, and the doctor who is doing his research on the title character’s painful mental purgatory.
In both cases, I was awed by the intelligence of the characters, by their raw and universal humanity and by the profundity of the feelings that were evoked through sensitive direction and beautiful performances.
So, there’s one more in the chute. “The End Times” by Jesse Mu-En Shao, will perform tomorrow, Thursday evening at 7:00PM at the McClintock theatre. Do yourself a favor and be there to drink in some of the latest voices in the theatre in LA. It’s a bit of a party, too – you never know who you might meet there!
The plays all perform again – Pairi Daiza on Friday at 7pm, Henry and the Hippocampus on Saturday at 2:30 and “The End Times” on Saturday at 7:00PM. Don’t miss them. I will be sorry if you do.