The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival, now in its thirty-sixth year represents, within the playwriting community in New York, an annual chance to make one’s mark in the business. Past winners include Theresa Rebeck and Shirley Lauro, as well as up-and-comers Bekah Brunstetter, Steve Yockey, Sheila Callaghan, and others. With plays ranging in length from ten to thirty minutes, the festival as a whole has the unique ability within the summer theatre season of showcasing forty new or nearly-new theatrical voices and, ultimately, offering a licensing contract and publication to the lucky six winners’ plays.
From a pool of submissions numbering over one thousand this year, forty finalists were chosen to perform over the course of the festival, which ran from 19-24 July 2011. From Tuesday through Saturday, the plays were split up into “sessions” of three or four plays. Each day featured a different panel of judges – one playwright, one agent, and one artistic director each night – who would select two or three plays (for a total of thirteen) to advance to the finals on Sunday.
Exeunt‘s Jason Wooden and Adrienne Urbanski were on hand to weigh in on the thirteen final plays, which were presented over the course of the day and judged by a panel of Samuel French insiders. Of this final batch of plays, six winners (denoted below) were chosen to be included in the volume Off Off Broadway Festival Plays, 36th Edition so that their plays may reach a wider audience. Along with this distinction comes a licensing contract with Samuel French.
Bedfellows by Adam Peltzman (winner)
Have you ever wondered what would happen if two of Americas founding fathers were forced to share a bed and a room? Wonder no more. The side-splitting new short play Bedfellows is the hilarious, slightly voyeuristic, Odd Couple-esque tale of “Big Daddy” Ben Franklin and “John-John” Adams, stuck in a single-bed inn in New Brunswick. Playwright Adam Peltzman and cast deliver the laughs and the goods! I genuinely laughed out loud from start to finish and even contemplated if Ben Franklin really had invented the term known as “spooning” just as he had invented the stove. –JW
Create Me Pegasus by Amy E. Witting
Create Me Pegasus, in sharp contrast to Bedfellows, is a dark and mysterious look at a modern father/step-daughter relationship that is more layered and complex than an onion. Ms. Witting’s introspective two-person short play vividly explores its characters lost souls, their haunted past, and how their choices effect and shape the future. –JW
Hanksylvania by Travis Helwig (winner)
It’s half time at a New York Jets football game, and the home team is losing the game. Okay, they’re getting pummeled! Now, we’ve all seen the somewhat tired Hollywood portrayal of a coach making a rousing, motivated, invigorating half-time locker room speech sending the team on to inevitable victory before. The real joy in Hanksylvania is that playwright Travis Helwig breaks this mold. In doing so he has written a fresh, comedic, and honest account of a team of losers who have bigger dreams and ambitions than football. Hanksylvania may just be the finest pep talk and moral boost on life I’ve seen in a while. And there’s nothing tired about that! –JW
Mountain Song by Josh Beerman (winner)
Josh Beerman’s Mountain Song is a deeply disturbing look at a non-traditional family coping with the death of a loved one. From the moment the lights came up on the matriarch of the family scrubbing the floor there was an overall sense of sorrow and pain. Not a single line or moment is wasted in Mr. Beerman’s writing, as huge family secrets are revealed or life-changing decisions are exposed. This short play is packed with as many twist and turns as a tear-jerking Lifetime movie. However, fully-realized and complicated characters, embodied by a strong cast, take this play away from Lifetime and closer to real life. –JW