By George Basler
Seamus Lucason had never been in Binghamton before last weekend. What drew him here was the opportunity to see one of his plays performed for the first time.
The Irish playwright, whose works have been produced in both Ireland and America, made the five-hour drive from Boston to be at KNOW Theatre’s Playwrights and Artists Festival for the play’s debut. “What it means for me is the chance to see what works, and what doesn’t work,” he said.
Lucason is one of six playwrights featured in this year’s festival, which opened this past weekend (Nov 17-19) and will continue this weekend (Nov. 24-26).
The event, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary this year, is one of the area’s most distinctive theatrical undertakings.
The format is an intriguing one. Tim Gleason, KNOW’s artistic director, picks out three diverse artworks with the help of the Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts Gallery. Playwrights then submit new, short plays inspired by the artworks.
The six plays being featured this year were among 67 entries that came to KNOW from across the country. All were judged, without names attached, by Gleason and a three-member panel. Two plays are performed each evening.
What happens after each performance is intriguing as well. Audience members have the chance to stick around for a talk-back session and give feedback to the actors, playwrights and directors.
“It’s an opportunity to delve into brand-new plays,” Gleason said. “I love it because you never know what’s going to happen.”
I can’t say I attend the festival every year. In fact, when I went opening night, it was my first time in four years. But I always find the event interesting, and this year was no exception. It’s refreshing to see something totally new and form your own opinion. The talk-back session also provides a glimpse into the creative process and the painstaking effort that goes into writing even the shortest play.
Moreover, Gleason always seems able to recruit some of the region’s most accomplished actors and directors to participate in the festival.
Friday evening, when I went, featured plays inspired by Maria’s Wish, a painting by Joseph Q. Daily that shows a seemingly romantic nighttime scene of a woman in a white dress staring into a candle flame near an open window.
The first play, Lucason’s A Thorn, was a family drama set in a remote part of Ireland and centered on the interaction between an older man beginning to drift into senility; his daughter, who is his caretaker, and a young man who has just taken up residence in a cottage in the area.
The second play, The Last Virgin by local playwright and actor Shirley Goodman, featured the misadventures of a bride on her wedding day and a locksmith she calls to get her out of an embarrassing situation.
Friday’s audience, which included several of the cast members’ acting colleagues, gave both plays a thumbs-up during the question-and-answer session. One suggestion was that Lucason expand his work into a full-length play. The suggestion is something he will consider, Lucason said.
The other plays in this year’s festival are:
• Dear Lentil by Kerri Quinn, a faculty member at Northern Arizona University, a drama focuses on family decisions made by a young woman that changes relationships. The inspiration is Out of the Shadows by Orazio Salati, an impressionistic mixed-media piece.
• Do or Don’t Do by Adara Alston, a local playwright, which focuses on how the relationship between an older man and younger woman affects a family member. Again, the inspiration is Salati’s artwork.
• The Moka Pot by James Menges, a playwright based in California, that takes place in a futuristic senior citizens’ home. The inspiration is Disco Shrine by Gordon Lee, a painting with a mix of objects inside a cabinet on a blue-and-purple tiled wall.
• And, Morally Inclined by Kris Tabor, about an elderly couple who commit insurance fraud to go to a casino. Again, the inspiration is Lee’s artwork.
Gleason said he knows of no other festival quite like the KNOW festival, and that makes it exciting year after year. Other than Dear Lentil, which is “a heavy piece,” this year’s plays feature a mixture of humor and drama, Gleason said.
“This year, comedy is king,” he told the audience.
Besides the new plays, this year’s festival features three original musical pieces written by local composers AJ Rembert, Adam Schultz and James Wright Glasgow. Glasgow coordinated the music selections.
Rembert’s piece, a recording of which was featured at the performance I attended, is a pretty piano solo. “Simple, clean and sweet, but not syrupy,” one audience member said. It fit the mood of the evening perfectly.
IF YOU GO: KNOW Theatre’s Playwrights and Artists Festival concludes this weekend. Performances are 8 p.m Friday through Sunday. Tickets at $15 a night, or $25 for the whole weekend, can be purchased at the theater’s box office, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton.
A Thorn and The Last Virgin are featured on Friday, The Moka Pot and Morally Inclined on Saturday and Dear Lentil and Do or Don’t Do on Sunday.