The Vineyard Playhouse traditionally gives theatergoers one last taste of professional regional theater before closing its doors to all but the occasional performance in the winter.
This year, artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo is resurrecting an off-season series that ran throughout the ’90s by presenting two programs of short plays. The two-weekend program will feature new work by an established Tony-nominated playwright and a first play by a veteran broadcast journalist, as well as work by a couple of young, but already quite accomplished, new voices in the theater world.
The series is titled “Hot Tickets, Very Short Plays by (Mostly) Female Writers” (one play was co-written by a man) and more or less combines the concept of two previously produced programs — the aforementioned short play festival, which took place for 10 years in the spring, and a program that Ms. Munafo presented from 2001-2003 featuring work by women artists in the fields of dance, theater, music, and visual arts. Says Ms. Munafo, “Female playwrights are under-represented in all our country.”
Of the upcoming series, Ms. Munafo says, “I love short plays. I love little glimpses into people’s lives and ideas. Audience attention span has been shrinking.” She adds, “It provides an opportunity for actors who wouldn’t be able to devote the time to a longer project and gives more playwrights an opportunity. The plays will feature a mix of Equity actors from off-Island and local talent. The Vineyarders in the cast include Clarke Maffit, Victoria Campbell, Molly Purves, and Shelagh Smiley. All five plays are directed by Ms. Munafo.
The first weekend, The Playhouse will present three short works. “The Graduation of Grace” by Wendy Kesselman is a short monologue delivered by Grace, an African-American girl who is about to graduate from junior high. Ms. Kesselman was introduced to Ms. Munafo by mutual friend, Pulitzer prize and Tony-award winning playwright/director James Lapine. Mr. Lapine directed Ms. Kesselman’s adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” on Broadway. The play, with Natalie Portman in the lead role, was nominated for Best Revival of a Play in 1999. Ms. Kesselman has received a number of awards for her extensive work as a playwright, lyricist, and screenwriter. Among many other honors, she won a Writers Guild of America award for her screen adaptation of John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace” in 1994.
Vineyard eighth-grader Danielle Hopkins will play Grace. She previously appeared on The Playhouse stage in Ms. Munafo’s adaptation of Kate Feiffer’s children’s book “My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life.” Says Ms. Kesselman of the short play, which was previously produced in New York City, “It’s about a young girl who’s about to go into high school. The title has more meanings than just her school graduation.” Ms. Kesselman notes that she plans to write two more short plays that will connect with “The Graduation of Grace,” although each will also be able to stand on its own.
“The Last Appointment,” by Madge Kaplan, presents a conversation between a therapist and her patient. Ms. Kaplan, who notes that this is the first play that she has written in earnest, has had a very successful career promoting healthcare agendas. She spent 20 years as a broadcast journalist for public radio, most recently serving as a health correspondent for National Public Radio.
Ms. Kaplan says of her short two-person play, “It’s gradually why the two characters are in this situation and why are they having this kind of conversation. It’s prompted by a significant event that shakes up both partners. It’s kind of an exploration of the nature of therapy.” She adds, “It’s drawn from my sense about the significance of relationships of all sorts, particularly in the mental health field where there’s a certain kind of bond but it’s difficult to define.”
This weekend’s third offering will be a play by Maureen Hourihan that deals with two sisters confronting the loss of their father to Alzheimer’s disease. “Slow Train Coming” was presented by The Vineyard Playhouse in 2007 as a benefit performance for Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod and the Islands. It has now been staged more than a dozen times on the Cape and Islands.
All three playwrights will be in attendance this weekend and will field questions from the audience after the performance. Says Ms. Kaplan, “I’m looking forward to this particular production. My hope is that people are there from both the therapeutic community and the artistic community and have some ideas.
The second weekend program will feature a one-act drama and a short musical. Alexandra Bullen, the author of “Maker’s Mark,” is a year-round Vineyarder and a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has had a full length play produced at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York as part of the 2004 Mentor Program Fellowship and her short plays have been produced variously by NYU, the Lincoln Center Theater Lab and the Boston Theater Marathon. Ms. Bullen is also the author of two novels for young adults.
Marisa Michelson, the co-author of the musical play “The Lovers,” also has ties to the Vineyard. She spent summers here as a child and her parents recently purchased a Campground cottage in Oak Bluffs where they sometimes host literary evenings. Ms. Michelson has collaborated on this piece with Joshua Cohen. The two were commissioned to write a short musical based on a piece of art by NYC’s Prospect Theatre Company. Ms. Michelson describes the play, which was inspired by the famous painting “The Lovers” by Rene Magritte: “It explores a married couple struggling with having met life so consistently as a pair that they aren’t sure who they are as individuals.” Mr. Cohen wrote the lyrics, Ms. Michelson the music, and both wrote the book for the play which includes four original songs. Together the two won the Jonathan Larson award this past year.
“The Graduation of Grace” will also play the second weekend.
Hot Tickets Evening #1: Saturday, Oct. 8 & Sunday, Oct. 9, 7:30 pm; Evening #2: Friday, Oct. 14 and Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 pm. All tickets are $20, or $30 for both evenings. For more information, contact 508-696-6300; vineyardplayhouse.org.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a regular contributor to The Times.