By George Basler

Judith Present calls herself “a storyteller. And for more than 40 years, the Hancock-based playwright has been telling stories in plays she has written and performed across the region.

Her specialty is creating dramatic monologues in which characters reveal the fears, feelings and hopes present in their everyday lives. Her subjects have ranged from U.S. First Ladies to persons impacted by the Vietnam War to a lonely widow seeking companionship in a bar after her husband’s death.

Present “excels in writing monologues that capture her characters. There’s something about her characters everyone can relate to even though they might not be in their situations,” said Bonnie Deforest, a friend who estimates she has acted in more than a dozen of Present’s productions over the years.

The Phelps Mansion Museum in Binghamton will host a retrospective of Present’s plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday (March 31). “It’s a cross section of my theatrical work. Being that I’m 80 years old, I thought it was a good time,” Present said, with a laugh.

Included in the “the cross section” are selections from seven of Present’s plays including Ghosts of the South: The Civil War about the impact of slavery on those who lived through it; I Was There in ’67: The Vietnam War about the memories of soldiers who fought in the war; The Affair about what happens when “all hell breaks loose” during a bar mitzvah after two people disclose their affair; and Those Who Crossed Barriers about “the mad ones who don’t fit in, the radicals and the firebrands.”

The evening will conclude with Present performing one of her signature characters, the lonely widow “Beatrice the Barfly.” The monologue, which features comic and dramatic moments, is billed as “An Everyday Woman with a Problem.”

Present said her goal is to have audience members take away an appreciation for “the diversity of the characters, and the diversity of the human spirit.” P

Before moving to the Southern Tier in 1992, Present was a resident playwright at the American Renaissance Theatre Company in New York City. After coming here, she worked with Judy McMahon to operate the Theatricks by Starlight theater company for 10 years at the State Theatre in Deposit.

Present then founded her own company, Presentarts. Under that banner, she wrote and presented new plays at the Hancock Opera House with the Little Victory Players before taking her productions on tour to other venues such as veterans’ organizations, museums and historical societies.

Friday’s retrospective “doesn’t have a story line per se like most plays. It’s different people getting up to tell their stories,” said Deforest, who is directing the production and performing one of the monologues. The retrospective stars Present and nine other actors who have worked with her on other productions.

“They said, ‘Let’s get the old gang back together,’” Present joked.

Present and Deforest have made sure that the retrospective is a mixture of lighter and more serious pieces. The playwright called the evening “another stop in the train” in her long career.

One of Present’s trademarks is giving actors flexibility in developing their characters, Deforest said, adding she was eager to be involved in the retrospective because it marks a milestone moment in Present’s career.

“I have a great deal of respect for her as a playwright. I’m very happy to be doing this and honoring her in her own way,” Deforest said.

IF YOU GO: The Present People: A Retrospective will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday (March 31) at the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton (next to the Broome County Public Library). Tickets at $15 are available at the door or by calling 607-722-4873.