Moliere and Mamet had to start somewhere, right? For nine years TeCo Theatrical Productions has honored the endeavors of regional and aspiring playwrights by hosting a New Play Competition at its welcoming gem of a venue, the Bishop Arts Theater Center on Tyler Street in Oak Cliff. For the past three years, I have functioned as a reader for the competition, helping to select the six entrants worthy of production from the twenty or so submitted. The competition has specific, clearly stated submission requirements (theme, length, number of characters, limited effects and light cues, etc.) in order to conform to presentation format at the showcase. Each year the quality of content has improved substantially. Each year the characters and plots have become more stage-worthy and intriguing. Each year, more writers follow the directions. (I read no submissions with heads of live actors blown up on stage this year, nor with downstage characters vanishing into thin air.) I’m impressed and encouraged. It’s not finished work nor meant to be, but it’s exciting to see the growth and scope of work in progress.
This year several of the six entries selected contained subject material and characters interesting enough I wished they could be expanded to full-length works. Dribbling by Richard Houghton, directed cleanly by LaToya Guy, reveals an ordinary action performed in an out of the ordinary setting as an existentialist metaphor. A Thoreau-like hero, an original, grapples with the meaning of his own existence in a world consumed with relativism and appearance, and finds an unexpected soul ally through confrontation. It’s all words: just three characters, one simple setting, clashing motivations and self-awareness levels. Their collision made for interesting theater and left me wondering how a second act might answer the questions posed. Good theater portrays conflict and resolution. Look at Sophocles.
The 2010 TeCo New Play Competition Literary Prize winner Jonathan Norton submits and directs a four person dark comedy this year, ironically titled The Last Supper. Hinting at similarity to Tom Stoppard with its focus on satirically nuanced text and the blending of real and fantasy worlds, this play introduces its audience to a world famous icon stepping out of a picture frame in search of a good meal. In the flesh, no less – whose ‘last supper’ does the title refer to? During the performance I attended, the surprise visitor’s wig (a Rastafarian affair) fell off, clearly not a planned event. Not missing a beat, actor J.R. Bradford worked the “challenge” into the scene, demanding with deadpan grandeur that another character replace it on his head. Funny enough in circumstance and actor realization as originally written, the play’s costume malfunction had the audience doubling over with laughter and is worth adding to the script. Where could this play go with an Act Two, if politicians and media got wind of the august personage’s arrival? No, it’s not Bob Marley dropping in for a snack….
The other four plays presented offer characters and situations that pique audience interest as well. Terrance Brooks’ comedic The Private Life portrays a futuristic couple dealing with a disobedient teen-ager while the ‘family robot’ (and play’s sometime narrator) interferes. Recent Minneapolis transplant Antay Bilgutay presents a two-person situation comedy, Ghost Dog Whisperer set in an inept psychic’s office. Nightly visitations by the main character’s recently deceased part-dingo dog (brought to life by human actor Sam Green taking a stab at mimicking an Aussie accent) put a cramp in his social life. Regional actor/director Buster Spiller presents a lively satire on divorce court, Ghet-toe Court. Local architect/set designer Art Rogers, with shades of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, offers a curious work about a building inspector’s visit with unusual sexual overtones.
Are the sets fully fleshed out? Not exactly. Do all of the actors have professional credentials and skills? No. Do some of the scripts need an edit? Definitely. Dallas tends to focus on finished product presentation, from sports teams to theatre performance. Real creativity is work in process. It’s exciting to watch it grow, and it deserves full audience support. Vote for your favorite! The winning playwright wins a nice cash prize.
TeCo’s 9th Annual New Play Competition has three more performances Februrary 25-27.
TeCo Theatrical Productions, Inc. @ the Bishop Arts Theater Center
215 South Tyler Street in Dallas
“Building dreams, inspiring audiences, and creating dramatic opportunities” – TeCo’s 17 year Anniversary Season
Photo by Luzette Flores, Buster Spiller not shown