Bill & Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival
Review by Shelli Park
Photos by Michael Brunk
The Bill and Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival is a fantastic way to see some of the top new plays in the region. Eric Dickman and Maggie Larrick put an amazing amount of work and passion into making this opportunity for playwrights, directors and audiences a quality experience. This round of plays is, so far, an example of really fine theatre. There are two plays; a one-act and a full length play. The format is simple with an opportunity provided at the end for constructive feedback with the writer and director.
I was impressed by the stage design for both sets. The sets, which share major elements, have a clean, efficient design by Maggie Larrick which evoke the mood needed for the various scenes.
They Walk Among Us
Written by Kirsten McCory
Directed by Laura Shearer
The premise is intriguing. Hera and Zeus try to make a go at living among humans. They live in suburban America. Hera is trying her best to fit in. She is unhappy, and engages a psychologist to help her figure out how to become her best self.
The writing is clever. How to place gods in a mundane, modern setting? They are outsized in their history, behavior and responses. Yet, they have feelings, too, don’t they?
The psychologist, Dr. Gold (Margaret VandenBerghe), is thrilled with the opportunity presented to her. Working with immortals! VandenBerghe successfully conveys all of the complexities of trying to do her job to help an emotionally distressed Hera, while balancing a bit of self-serving behavior. VandenBerghe plays is a very convincing psychologist.
Kevin Finney makes a great Zeus. Zeus really is trying to please Hera in this move to live among humans. He loves his wife. Finney balances a wonderful ‘down to Earth’ sensibility with the attitudes of a narcissistic, philandering god. I like Finney’s version of Zeus.
Hera is the center of this story. She is seeking help. She wants to be happy. Hera, played by Carrie Schnelker, has an enormous, jealousy-induced temper. Schnelker does a decent job projecting Hera in the quiet moments when she contemplates her life among humans with her husband. Things fall flat when Schnelker attempts to become the passionate, vengeful Hera. She is a bit stiff. The energetic demands of playing the Queen of Heaven are great and it seems Schnelker struggles.
The directing is clean. I appreciate how Laura Shearer interprets the relationships on stage. There are a few moments where the blocking is a tad awkward, but I’m sure as the performances continue things will be tightened.
Written by Duane Kelly
Directed by Calen P. Winn
Escorting Tom is a gem of a play. Duane Kelly’s writing is superb. Kelly takes the audience on a thoughtful journey through unusual circumstances, but doesn’t give away the ending. He treats the lives of his characters with a compassionate, but not soft, hand and with an intelligent sense of humor. There are layers revealed as the play progresses which provide depth to the story in a skillful way.
Carol (Darla Smedley) and Tom (Mark Gladding) are married and share a house, but haven’t been husband and wife for a very long time. At some point in their relationship something broke. Carol lives downstairs, and Tom lives upstairs. The kitchen is their shared space where their few conversations take place.
Carol obviously still cares for Tom, but Tom is stuck in a very closed-in world of work and home. As a character he is sarcastic and self-effacing. The world is not a friendly place.
Gladding is a wonderful actor. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing his personal evolution as the play progressed. He is natural on stage, and convincing. And has a lovely sense of humor.
Smedley is fun to watch. She is a proficient Carol, projecting dissonance as tolerant roommate, mother hen, and conspirator mixed with an underlying anxiety about the future. She carries her role well.
One evening, Tom meets a woman while waiting to pick up carry-out Chinese for Carol. Inexplicably to Tom, there is interest and chemistry. The woman, Margot (Jane Martin), is a pretty, French woman. She is a dream right out of an unattainable fantasy. Martin is lovely as Margot. Her role in Tom’s life creates just the right amount of tension. Martin is fresh and relaxed on stage.
Eric Dickman provides great sound design. Fun, apropos music accompanies the transitions, and I enjoyed the sound effects. I also really enjoyed the succinct costuming by Tucker O’Connor, especially in the last scene. There is a harmony to the wardrobe choice which is symbolic and very pleasing to the eye.
Calen Winn did an excellent job directing. His stage direction propels the action forward keeping good pace with the writing. The tenderness and the awkward moments are given the right amount of space. There are a couple of exits that I didn’t quite understand, but that could be my own fault.
The Bill and Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival is top notch this year. I think that this has been my favorite production of the season. Make sure that you don’t miss your chance to see fine theatre in Burien.
TICKETS ARE JUST $10
Tickets are just $10, and each ticket includes admission to two plays – a one-act followed by a full-length.
From April 14-23, the one-act They Walk Among Us is paired with the full-length Escorting Tom. In the comedy They Walk Among Us, written by Kirsten McCory and directed by Laura Shearer, Zeus and Hera start a whole new myth after falling into a suburban therapist’s self-serving plot. In the comedy-drama Escorting Tom, written by Duane Kelly and directed by Calen P. Winn, to soften the blow of leaving her socially inept husband Tom, Carol hatches an audacious plan. The project promptly fails—and succeeds—in ways she did not see coming.
From April 28-May 7, the one-act Winter People is paired with the full-length The Law of the Sea. In the drama Winter People, written by Devin Rodger and directed by Tabitha Angier, two recovering addicts struggle to find the truth—and healing—in the connetion they once shared. In the drama The Law of the Sea, written by D. Richard Tucker and directed by Rochelle Flynn, Andrew Irving died in a shipwreck, and his widow can’t believe the explanation given by the surviving crew. What really happened, and just what is the “Law of the Sea”?
After each play is performed, audience members are invited to participate in a talk-back with the director and playwright. These talk-backs are an opportunity for the audience to discuss the show with its creators and for the playwrights to get an honest audience response to their work.
These shows are suggested for ages 13-plus due to some adult content and language.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at Burien Actors Theatre, 14501 4th Ave. S.W. in Burien.
The Playwrights Festival is sponsored by 4Culture, the City of Burien and Pickled & Preserved.
HOW TO BUY TICKETS
For tickets and other information, go to www.burienactorstheatre.org or call 206-242-5180.
Burien Actors Theatre is located at 14501 4th Ave SW in Burien (map below).
ABOUT THE BILL AND PEGGY HUNT PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL
The mission of the Bill & Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival is twofold: to encourage Washington State playwrights to pursue their craft and to showcase previously unproduced plays written by Washingtonians. Playwrights are invited to submit their scripts, which are evaluated by a panel of judges who select the winners. Burien Actors Theatre (BAT) produces the winning plays in the festival. Top winners in the one-act and full-length script categories are produced as fully staged performances on BAT’s main stage.
The Festival was named to honor Bill and Peggy Hunt’s dedicated service to theater and their devotion to and involvement with BAT. Peggy Hunt joined Burien’s theater scene in 1960. Over the next 35 years both Bill and Peggy appeared in and directed plays, designed and built sets, served on BAT’s Board of Directors, and were involved in some aspect of every theater project.
BAT officially launched the Bill & Peggy Hunt Playwrights Festival in 1999. This year, BAT has chosen four playwrights to be honored with awards.