Every year we look forward to the Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Festival at Wayne State University. Showcasing the work of three promising playwrights, it’s a great way to sample voices of a new generation. There’s something so satisfying about being there to witness the butterfly as it first pokes its head out of the cocoon. Even better, this evening of three one-act plays guarantees those of us in the audience a modicum of variety and more than a few surprises. Last night’s audience embraced those moments – howling with delight and holding their collective breath as the various stories unfurled.
The festival is limited to this weekend, running February 26–28 at 8 p.m. and March 1 at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre, located underground at the Hilberry Theatre at the corner of Cass and Hancock on WSU’s campus. The writing competition itself and the ultimate staging of three winning plays are funded through a scholarship created by Louise Heck-Rabi, who was a dedicated writer and member of the Detroit literary scene.
Interestingly, this year’s festival features new works from playwrights who are well known to Hilberry patrons as prominent members of its acclaimed acting ensemble: Bevin Bell-Hall, Sarah Hawkins Moan and Brandy Joe Plambeck. In fact, both Bell-Hall and Plambeck are appearing upstairs, in the Hilberry’s production of “An Enemy of the People,” while the festival plays downstairs in the Studio Theatre.
The plays each run approximately 40 minutes and are separated by 10-minute intermissions – just enough time to switch one’s brain from subjects that progress from the surreal, to the silly, to the serious:
“Dark Monday” by Bevin Bell-Hall (Nevada City, CA)
Directed by Kendall Rose Talbot (Sterling Heights); the Stage Manager is Shannon Hurst (Warren).
Most theaters are “dark” on Monday – giving the company at least one day during the week to handle the less dramatic demands of real life. But what if the actors themselves never turn off – but rely on the scripts from TV shows, plays and movies to communicate? This comedy draws from a broad range of “literature,” sweeping the audience along as it leaps from one show to the next – patching together a metanarrative made up of scenes from such shows as “I Love Lucy,” “Uncle Vanya,” “Singing in the Rain,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Star Wars,” “A Doll’s House,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and even the current Bonstelle production, “Fences.” Usually the phrase “something for everyone” is used to damn with faint praise, but not here. “Dark Monday” opens a box of dark chocolates to be relished by avid theatre/film fans, but even casual patrons will find something delicious.
The acting ensemble includes Graham Todd (Shelby Township) and Kate Martinez (Flat Rock) as the principal Actors, with Ibrahim Karim (Baghdad, Iraq) and Maggie Beson (Riverview) as the Supporting Actors.
“Good Girls” by Sarah Hawkins Moan (North Manchester, IN)
Directed by Taylor Morrow (Warren); the Stage Manager is Madeline Schnorr (Marshall).
Many parents of college-aged kids go through a sort of empty-nest anxiety as they worry about how the dangers of campus living (sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll) might threaten their beloved little darlings. In this comedy, an unexpected role-reversal is in store for Kate when she wakes up, hung-over from a wild party, and remembers that her parents are due for a visit in just an hour. Panicking, Kate shakes her roommate Liv into action to help tidy, explaining that her mother is a chronic control freak. They eject Liv’s stoner boyfriend Leo, asleep behind the futon, just before Kate’s mom Debra shows up – ahead of schedule and on her own. Neither Kate nor Liv are prepared for what follows – but it’s a fun romp with Debra through the land of Midlife Crisis – even with its unfortunate casualties and unintended consequences.
The acting ensemble includes Hanna Butcher (Taylor) as Debra; Michaella Mallet (Byron) as Liv; Ibrahim Karim (Baghdad, Iraq) as Leo; and Danielle Wright (Lathrup Village) as Kate.
“Wallpaper” by Brandy Joe Plambeck (Ferndale, MI)
Directed by Carl Bentley (Flat Rock); the Stage Manager: Delaney O’Brien (Brighton).
This thoughtful, provocative play is based on a premise first voiced in the Victorian short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, which challenged the way the medical profession dealt with depression and misdiagnosed mental health issues. “Wallpaper” is the story of Charlie, a teenaged boy who engages in self-harm behavior – probably a reaction to his mother Jennifer’s psychosis. Thrust into “treatment” by Jennifer’s new doctor and lover, Jonathan, Charlie is medicated and then isolated in a strange room where the only stimulation is the bizarre, infuriating wallpaper. Bereft of his usual coping tools – painting and sewing – Charlie’s demons find a new release.
The acting ensemble includes Christianno DeRushia (Jackson) as Boy; Malcom Harris (Chicago, IL) as Charlie; Clearie McCarthy (Lansing) as Jennifer; and Graham Todd (Shelby Township) as Jonathan.
The Production team for all three shows includes: Scenic Designer, Jon Pigott (Wyandotte); Costume Designers, Alyssa Gawel (Sterling Heights) and Anthony Tooney (Sterling Heights); Lighting Designer, John Schmidt (Farmington Hills), Sound Designer, Valerie Frawley (Warren); Producer, Dan Finn (Armada); Production Stage Manager, Allison Baker (Bellefountain, OH); and Publicist, Kevin Replinger (Centennial, CO).
Take time this weekend to enjoy these three short plays offered through the Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Competition. The remaining showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 313-577-2972, visit wsushows.com, or stop by the WSU box office located at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Avenue, Detroit, at the corner of Cass and Hancock. The Studio Theatre is located in the lower level of the Hilberry.