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A Feast of Playlets 

by Michael Bowen

After 22 years, the Civic's Playwrights' Forum Festival isn't merely a provincial affair anymore. This year's dramatists hail from major cities like Seattle, San Diego, Houston, L.A. and Chicago -- and from one not-so-major city: one of the plays was written by local attorney Matt Harget, who lives in Chattaroy, Wash.

Seven new scripts -- all 15 to 30 minutes in length -- include spoofs, mysteries, farces and philosophical plays (running June 10-25 in the Civic's downstairs Studio Theatre). Festival director Maynard Villers reports that some entries came from as far away as New York, with three playwrights appearing in the festival for the first time. The seven one-acts have five different directors: two veterans of Playwrights' Forum -- Villers and Ann Whiteman -- and three first-time Forum directors -- Sandra Hosking, Reed McColm and Stuart McKenzie.

In Rotation A, you can see "Noir Light" by first-time Playwrights' Forum entrant Richard Martin Hirsch of Pacific Palisades, Calif. Villers describes it as "just what the title says: part homage and part send-up of film noir -- but with an all-woman cast. The detective, Frieda Diamond -- along with the help of her girl Friday, Tuesday Monday, help Ophelia St. Croix find a priceless gold bauble. And then there are the obligatory film noir characters: a hooker, an old lady, a waitress."

In "Fertilizer," by Philip Field of San Diego, says Villers, "a young chemist is about to receive an award, and he's rehearsing his speech -- but a different one than he'd written, and one that could jeopardize his and his wife's futures. It's about a struggle with responsibility: Who comes first -- our family and job, or the obligation to society?"

In "Members of the Club" by Carl L. Williams of Houston, four wealthy women meet for tea -- and while they all have something in common, only the hostess knows about it.

Rotation B offers four short plays. Villers summarizes Williams' second entry in the festival, "Accused of Comedy," this way: "Two vaudeville comedians are in jail awaiting their fate in a world in which comedy and humor and even laughter have been outlawed."

Chicago's Michael Burgan has created "Can Can't," which Villers says "is about how one man's trash is another man's treasure." Snooping through trash piles and yard sales, he says, "can even lead to an addiction of sorts."

In Matt Harget's "My Trivial Life," about two slackers in their 20s. "When Death comes a-calling for one of them," says Villers, "he ends up playing Trivial Pursuit with Death -- and the stakes are his life."

Thomas Pierce of Seattle is the playwright of the final entry in Rotation B, "Genesis," which will feature Villers as a professor who's giving a party at home when his ex-wife, an astronomer (played by Kate Vander Wende) shows up with some bad news.

At the end of the festival, a special committee from the Civic will select the best play. But any spectator can play critic as well: After each performance, audience members can rate the plays they've seen, resulting in a "Best of the Fest" Audience Choice Award. And over the years, how often have the adjudicating committee and playgoers agreed on the festival's best script? Only about half the time.

The current mania for reality TV -- unscripted, but with the boring parts edited out and the most embarrassing bits left in -- suggests that there's little audience for a gathering like the Playwrights' Festival of brand-new and scripted plays that are performed live. But then the people in the Studio Theatre are way nicer than that Donald Trump guy. So take a chance on an evening of new plays.

Publication date: 06/09/05

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