Denver Playwriting Summit Part I

Readings, Full Productions, Playwrights at Work

By: - Feb 22, 2016


Denver Playwriting Summit
Denver Center for the Performing Arts
Denver, Colorado
February 19-21, 2016

For the past 11 years Denver has put on a playwriting summit, celebrating theatre and bringing forward talent waiting to hit the main stage. 2016 is no exception. The Summit provides participating playwrights two full weeks to workshop  new plays with directors, actors, and dramaturgs. Their work culminates in readings and world premiere productions.

We started with a reading of Midwinter by Mat Smart. The title immediately calls to mind Midsummer Night's Dream and in its love duets echo Shakespeare.  

Smart has taken a bold idea, 151 people huddled together in a weather station in Antarctica for six months, four of which are lived in darkness. It also has a touch of Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. The film's plot—which involves switching partners on a summer night—has been adapted many times, most notably as the theatrical musical, A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim, and as Woody Allen's film A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

We only meet six of the inhabitants in the play. Tal's assignment is to tend the greenhouse where lettuce and especially tomatoes are growing for the Midwinter celebration organized by social director Eka, a Georgian.

For Tal, getting people to come into the greenhouse and breathe is vital. The release of the CO2 is just what his plants need to grow. Tal is a regular at this external, out-of-the-way station. So is Eka.

Eka's humor is mainly delivered in mashed English as she creates her own brand of miniates (minutes).

She has brought her daughter Hilary along this time. She is gay and has just ended a disastrous love affair. Eka wants to help her recover.

Recovery comes as a double whammy. First Dmitri, who is trying to find new meaning for his life because his day job is vacuous, kisses Hilary who for a moment thinks she might like men.

Dmitri has come with Helen, his long term girlfriend who is a student in medical school. It's unclear whether Helen has joined the expedition because she doesn't want to be in medical school or she is afraid to let Dmitri out of her sight for so long. Even in her sight, he veers out of orbit toward Hilary.

Freed not by his choice but by Hilary's Dmitri is again intrigued by Helen. And so it goes.

Two big events propel the play forward. One off-stage participant has an attack of appendicitis. A plane has to be called in to deliver the participant to care. But the plane will also bring in freshies, fruits and vegetables just in time for the midwinter celebration.

Tal is devastated. All his work in the greenhouse for naught. Of course the plane with not deliver marijuana which Tal secretly grows in a hidden corner of the greenhouse.

Everyone carries beepers which only go off when the aurora borealis is displayed outside. Most of the time when the beeper goes off it is only for a green smudge.

The play is sure to be a success with its unusual but deeply drawn characters and an incomparable contained setting.

Fade got a full production. The playwright Tanya Saracho seems to write from a personal experience, but can’t quite bring off the concept.

Lucia is an aspiring TV writer who has landed in a seemingly dream job in Hollywood. The only other Latino in the office works as a janitor, who comes to clean every evening.

Lonely for her Spanish speaking family, Lucia leans on Abel, at first unsuccessfully offering beer, which he is not allowed to drink on the job. She engages him in Spanish, which he does not speak n the office. He accommodates Lucia without enthusiasm, a dignified man. We get no sense that Abel is romantically interested. Nor is Lucia. A little heat between them ,even ambiguous heat, might help this play. The ultimate betrayal does not have its intended force, or shock.

Fade is flat, but holds the prospect of being shaped to give more of a sense of the problems and perils of outsiders -- women, ethnics, races, as they move up the ladder. This is interesting stuff in a time when we consider the disproportionate number of women and African Americans in Hollywood. Where are the other Kathryn Bigelow's on the directors' rosters?  

The selection of plays at the summit proved that unusual contemporary settings are a good way to capture an audience.