Theater : Young playwrights tale the stage at The Vineyard Playhouse
Last weekend, in the first half of their series, Hot Tickets — Very Short Plays by (Mostly) Female Writers, The Vineyard Playhouse featured the works of a veteran playwright and a long time journalist, along with an encore performance of a play previously produced at The Playhouse. This weekend, it's the younger writers' turn.
On Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14 and 15, The Playhouse will present a program of new plays by 24-year-old Alexandra Bullen, and a musical co-written by 28-year-old Marisa Michelson and her writing partner Joshua H. Cohen. The Playhouse will also repeat the very short play, "The Graduation of Grace," written by Tony Award-nominated playwright and Writers Guild Award-winning screenwriter, Wendy Kesselman.
Ms. Bullen is a Boston native who grew up spending summers on the Vineyard with her parents. After receiving an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, she decided to settle on the Vineyard to focus on her writing. As an undergraduate, Ms. Bullen had a full length play produced by New York's Cherry Lane Theater as part of a mentor program. Her mentor was the much lauded playwright Ed Bullins. At that point Ms. Bullen had only taken one playwriting class, almost on a lark. Says Ms. Bullen, "The Cherry Lane experience was my real education in playwriting."
After moving to the Vineyard, Ms. Bullen commenced work on a series of young adult novels while maintaining her interest in theater work. She has had two books published by Scholastic and is beginning work on a new series for young adults. The play she will be presenting here, "Makers Mark," was first produced as part of a festival at NYU and at a Boston theater marathon. "It's a simple vignette of one character who stops into a restaurant and unloads some of her problems on a bartender," she says of the 10-minute play. "I have a lot of friends who have started as bartenders and who are now therapists. It's a natural transition."
"The Lovers" by Ms. Michelson and Mr. Cohen was inspired by a set of paintings of the same name by Rene Magritte. The paintings depict a couple in tender poses with their heads draped in white cloth. "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," Ms. Michelson says, and she describes it as "kind of a cross between a short musical and an opera." The play will feature equity actors from off-Island.
The co-authors met while both were at NYU pursuing graduate degrees. Ms. Michelson was acting and singing at that time and she performed in all of Mr. Cohen's musical theater works. She approached him about collaborating since, as she says, "I loved his work so much as a singer. I found his lyrics to be so poignant and insightful." The two have since worked on a number of projects together and jointly won the Jonathan Larson award for a full-length musical piece. Both are accomplished writers/composers with a number of awards and honors between them.
Ms. Michelson has spent summers on the Vineyard all her life and her parents recently bought a house in the Campgrounds. Her father, Richard Michelson, is a children's book author and her mother is a massage therapist who is working towards becoming a minister. Ms. Michelson notes that her work combines both of her parents' talents, "There's a healing and therapeutic quality to the singing and teaching that I do." Ms. Michelson has a successful career as a singer and singing teacher. She has traveled all over the world with various projects though she still performs with the Tabernacle choir while here in the summer.
The very short monologue, "The Graduation of Grace" by Wendy Kesselman, is, alone, worth the price of admission. Ms. Kesselman really packs a punch into 10 minutes, and 12-year-old actress Danielle Hopkins brilliantly captures the transition from childhood into burgeoning adulthood with the mixture of pain and self-awareness that goes along with an awakening understanding of self and the world around us.
Hot Tickets, 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14 and 15, The Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. vineyardplayhouse.org.