Reviewed by George Basler
As a professional playwright, Charlene Donaghy looks forward to the KNOW Theatre’s annual Playwrights and Artists Festival as a unique opportunity.
“There is something very unusual and very challenging about looking at somebody else’s art and being inspired by it,” she said.
Donaghy, who hails from Torrington, Conn., is one of six playwrights whose works have been picked for this year’s festival, which is running this weekend and next at the theater at 74 Carroll St., Binghamton.
She was in attendance Friday (Nov. 22) when the festival opened with her one-act play, Sword Play, inspired by Oneonta artist Charles Hartley’s oil painting Nurnberg Cathedral.
The idea behind the festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is to challenge playwrights to write short, one-act plays inspired by three diverse visual artworks picked by Tim Gleason, KNOW’s artistic director.
Six new works are featured each year, with two performed each night.
What happens after the performances is another thing that makes the festival unique and exciting.
Gleason encourages audience members to remain after the performance, grab some drinks and snacks in the lobby and then stay for a dialogue and question-and-answer session with the actors, playwrights and directors. In this way, the audience takes a role in the creative process. Most members stayed Friday night when I was there.
“The creativity that happens is crazy and exciting,” Gleason said.
The two plays performed Friday were both engaging and interesting efforts. Donaghy’s play was a social drama, set in New Orleans in 1962, focusing on the conflict between a young nun and parish priest about the future of an African-American boy whom the nun has taken under her wing.
The second play, Quick Fix by local playwright Shirley Goodman, was a funny effort that turned convention on its head as a liberal, non-religious couple questioned their parenting skills after they discovered their son’s apparent growing interest in religion. The story has a nasty little twist at the end, however. Quick Fix and Sword Play will be repeated Nov. 30.
Both plays impressed Hartley, whose painting of the German cathedral was the basis for both plays performed opening night. He was “pleased and surprised” by how the playwrights provided a different spin to his work, the Oneonta artist said.
“I thought I’d have two dark plays about medieval monks,” he said, with a laugh.
Donaghy said “I had a nun running around in my head for three years, but no place to live until I saw the painting.” Some audience members encouraged her to develop her play beyond one act, and Donaghy said she is thinking about doing this.
Meanwhile, Goodman said, she started “in a dark place” when she began working on her play and went through several drafts that reached dead ends until she had the inspiration to turn the play into a comedy.
The process “triggers a lot of things in the brain. It’s like a pinball. You start with one idea, and it bounces off and becomes another,” she said.
The six plays in the festival were picked from 21 entries. All were judged, without names attached, by Gleason, director Brandt Reiter and Broome Community College professors James Gormley and Jan Quackenbush, who helped inspire the festival at its birth.
The four other plays are equally varied. For example, The Compliance of James Caraghy by Jonathan Fitts deals with the Irish troubles in the 1920s while Fire by Anna Maria Trusky, set in Carbondale, Pa., in the late 1940s, is centered on a young girl with higher aspirations who meets a Philadelphia socialite. Both are inspired by Charles Bremer’s Transparent Café and will be performed Sunday (Nov. 24) and Nov. 29.
An untitled watercolor by Barbara Carey inspired Persistence of Vision by Sean Walsh, which deals with a motivational speaker having a nervous breakdown, and Cognizant Hall by Marshall Frey, which uncovers secrets in an old, forgotten house. Performances are today (Nov. 23) and Dec. 1.
The festival is “a chance to have your work read and produced; that’s an amazing experience,” Goodman said.
Donaghy knows of no other festival like it. “Tim and the KNOW Theatre have done something pretty remarkable,” she said.
IF YOU GO: Additional performances in the 10th Annual Playwrights and Artists Festival Broome will take place today (Nov. 23), Sunday (Nov. 24) and Nov. 29-Dec. 1. All performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 each night or $20 for a full weekend of performances; purchase at the door.