Revising Playwrights

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he four one-acts at this year's Playwrights Festival Forum, as always, offer a grab-bag of premises: A playwright yells at a critic who ridiculed her play. A man ponders the meaning of a spiritual dream. The Tooth Fairy reluctantly comforts a troubled little boy. Four creatures in the Garden of Eden wonder why they're getting blamed for what Adam and Eve did.

Instead of (as in the past) eight one-act plays (on alternating evenings of four playlets each), this year's Playwrights Festival Forum at the Civic offers a total of four one-acts (all presented on three successive evenings, June 8-10) followed by three performances of a single full-length play (June 15-17).

The playwrights may be amateurs, but their works have earned their recognition. A committee selected the four winning one-acts from more than 70 blind submissions; and while 25 other dramatists vied for a single spot in the juried full-length-play competition, it was Spokane's own Will Gilman who won the opportunity to see his play, Sonnet 23, produced.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & estival director Bryan Harnetiaux says "His Critical Condition" is "a chance meeting between a critic and a playwright in a bar. And the critic, of course, has trashed her play. There's a wanna-be actor who's the bartender. It all leads to a discussion about theater in general and the role of the critic. It's touching, what occurs, though it's full of rather acerbic and witty dialogue."

"Paradise Lost" takes place, says Harnetiaux, "shortly after Adam and Eve have fouled up. It's the interaction of four denizens of the Garden of Eden, who are rather upset that they're being thrown out -- there's a hummingbird, a cat, an elephant and a spider. And so they all confront Michael the Archangel. It's very humorous, but there's some serious metaphysics underneath it."

In "The Tooth Fairy," a 10-year-old boy wakes up one night to find a man in pink tights and a tutu standing in his room, chomping on a cigar. This comic premise, however, turns into "an intimate little story that's poignant," says Harnetiaux. "The Tooth Fairy is trying to stick to business and get out of there, but he's drawn into the boy's life because he's a troubled kid with a rough domestic life."

"Holy Moly!" is "a search for meaning by a man who yearns to examine life," says Harnetiaux. In a five-minute monologue, Thomas (played by Will Gilman) tells how, in a dream, a voice told him that his purpose is to evolve as a spiritual being. Eventually, he comes to realize the holiness of everyone around him.

Gilman also plays a prominent part in Sonnet 23, the full-length play that will be produced on June 15-17 under Brooke Kiener's direction: He wrote it. The title of Gilman's play refers to Shakespeare's poem, in which the persona compares the nervousness of a shy lover and that of "an unperfect actor on the stage / Who with his fear is put besides his part."

Gilman, however, says his play "is much more about relationships than acting." The main character is an actor who doesn't succeed either at auditions or with women. Both actors and lovers put their hearts on the line and face rejection, but Gilman says he didn't consciously intend that parallel: "I've discovered in the rehearsal process many things I've done with the script but didn't make the choice to do -- it just came out that way. My unconscious mind is much smarter than my conscious one," he says, laughing.

Kiener explains the premise: "Mel narrates the play. He falls in love with Annie -- then, through a freak accident, ends up in the hospital. He's cared for by this nurse who's really hot. And for a while, he plays both of them." Interwoven with this love triangle is the story of Mel's repeated failures at auditions.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & oderated audience talkbacks will take place every night of the festival, and playgoers will be able to vote for their favorite scripts. Harnetiaux, whose still-being-composed Dusk will be produced in the Civic's Studio a year from now, has had his scripts produced in previous Forums. But is audience feedback, based on a single viewing, really of that much use to playwrights who have been laboring for months over a script?

"If you hear the same thing said different ways" during audience feedback, says Harnetiaux, "then you'd better look at that. If they're confused, or they dislike something -- if it's just one night, you might excuse it. But with the recurring feedback, you'd better fix it. The audience only sees it once, and you've got to make it clear and get it right."

Developing brand-new plays is a collaborative process among playwrights, directors, actors and crew. At the Civic's Playwrights Festival Forum, playgoers get to contribute, too.

The 23rd annual Playwrights Festival Forum presents four one-act plays on Thursday-Saturday, June 8-10, at 7:30 pm, and Will Gilman's full-length play, Sonnet 23, on June 15-17 at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $10. Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre, 1020 N. Howard St. (Dean St. entrance). Visit or call 325-2507.