It's ten at night, and the Jones Theatre is thronged with bodies, and smells of beer, wine and popcorn as the Playwrights' Slam -- a regular part of the Denver Center Theatre Company's Colorado New Play Summit -- is about to begin.
"My woman wants your head to make a soup."
This is from a play about the migration of African Americans from Florida to Oklahoma in 1850 by Marcus Gardley.
"On our third date, I man up and seduce him. It's all heavy and squishy ... I can't fuck a meatloaf for the rest of my life."
And this is Luciann Lajoie describing her experiences with online dating. She'll perform this play at the Jones in spring.
Ten playwrights have been invited to read anything from their work they'd like, and the night is eclectic. There's a play based on Colorado First Lady Helen Thorpe's book, Just Like Us; another about a Methuselah pill that switches off the aging gene. Eric Schmiedl reads a scene from his adaptation of Frankenstein that involves the extended mastication of an apple -- lots of mmmmnnning and slurping and juiciness, all hunger-inducing and pretty funny.
Lauren Feldman tells the audience how nervous she is -- several times and very charmingly -- and then proceeds to read a sort of Gertrude Stein-influenced prose poem addressed to her grandparents, in which she tells them, "I'm not gay. But I'm dating a woman." You don't have to understand what's actually going on -- these grandparents seem to be in the ether -- to find it delightful.
Samuel D. Hunter, whose The Whale was read last year and is in full production this year (read my review here), has a scene from Permanent Image, a sad-funny one in which a woman tells her adult children that their father's death was a suicide and that after the funeral she's "planning on doing the same thing."
And Michael Mitnick has a brilliant monologue by an inarticulate seventeen-year-old trying to connect with a girl, full of repetitions, unfinished sentences, jerky thoughts and spurts of self-loathing.
It's impossible to judge these evocative fragments -- and best not to try. Some of the playwrights are actors who give the words their full emotional due, some are solitary writers, apt to mumble or rush the words. And who knows how these pieces of action fit into a whole? A terrific patch of dialogue can exist in a play that doesn't entirely work. A fine play can be made up of quiet and apparently unimpressive individual moments. What's wonderful for theater lovers is getting a sense of the disparate talents working in contemporary theater, the entirely different ways in which different writers approach their work.
A staged reading provides a blueprint for the final production, and there are five such readings this weekend. But the out-of-context scenes performed at the Jones reveal the raw material -- the unadorned concepts, moments of creativity, flights of imagination that may or may not coalesce into art but are the germ from which the entire enterprise springs.
The Colorado New Play Summit continues this weekend; find more details here.
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Here's the Denver Center's video of the Colorado New Play Summit in Plain English: