Review: Hilberry’s actors turn playwright in WSU’s Heck-Rabi Festival

2014 Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Festival

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March 1, 2014

Every year Wayne State University gives us a chance to experience the theatre equivalent of speed dating. It’s the 2014 Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Festival – a presentation of one-act plays chosen as part of a competition that’s designed to give emerging playwrights an opportunity to have their work produced.

The Heck-Rabi Festival opened Thursday night and runs through March 8 at the Studio Theatre, which is situated directly underneath the Hilberry Theatre and accessed via stairs on either side of the Cass Street awning.

The Festival showcase is a collaboration between the Department of Theatre and Dance and the English Department at Wayne State University. Winning plays are chosen after several finalists are presented as staged readings in the fall. Winning playwrights receive a scholarship and a chance to work with undergraduate directors, designers, and actors to realize their plays onstage at the Studio Theatre.

This year’s festival features new works from four promising playwrights, presented in rotating repertory, with three short plays at each evening’s performance. It’s worth noting that the winning playwrights are all accomplished actors – third-year MFA students in the Hilberry Company who will continue delighting audiences with their performances in “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” in March.

We were lucky enough to catch three of the four plays on Friday night, and enjoyed how the modular scenic design, a stylized assemblage of crates and apple boxes, was restacked and propped out to accommodate each play. The shows we saw explored entirely different themes, with distinct and memorable characters, but each managed to squeeze a fully story arc into a tiny slice of the time-space continuum.

“The Crate,” by David Sterritt (Atlanta, GA)

Directed by Katelyn Foster (Harrison Township)
The lights come up as two hapless buddies, shipping warehouse employees, open a suspicious crate in hopes of sorting out its missing delivery instructions. But once they see what’s inside – like Pandora – they find it’s too for damage control. Does their boss know what’s going on? Is their boss part of an illicit operation? And where does that leave our friends. When a female colleague shows up unexpectedly, they don’t know if she’s a friend or a foe… or both. This is a black licorice play – it’s fun, but it has a dark twist.

Featuring Carl Bentley (Flat Rock); Michael Fisher (Garden City); Egla Kishta (Clinton Township); Chris Peterson (Royal Oak). Stage Manager: Nicholas Boyd (Redford).

You can catch this one in rotation Saturday, March 1; Thursday, March 6; Friday, March 7 or Saturday, March 8, 2013.

“Jazz Duet in a Minor Key,” by Topher Payne (Lubbock, TX)
Directed by Lisa Youngs (Wyandotte)
Charles, seeking direction in his plateaued life, drives across the country in hopes of reconnecting with a former high school best friend – a friend who spurned Charles when he came out as gay before their graduation. When Charles shows up at the friend’s childhood home, he meets Karyn, herself suffering from identity issues. As each makes an effort to offer the other a measure of healing, they discover a common thread in their suffering, and exchange and renew the lost confidence they enjoyed as kids.

Featuring Doug Lubaway (Wyandotte); Katelin Maylum (Byron). Stage Manager: Cassandra Maniak (Southgate).

This play will be performed on Saturday, March 1; Thursday, March 6; Friday, March 7 and Saturday March 8, 2013.

“For the Kids,” by Brent Griffith (Port Orchard, WA)
Directed by Kelly Robinson (Royal Oak)
Cam and Will are best friends, roommates, and co-workers in a troupe that teaches elementary school children about the importance of friendship. As Cam grows closer to a woman he met on a gig and Will is increasing left alone, both friends find their resentments leaking into their on-stage moralizing – with incendiary and hilarious results. Can Cam and Will learn a valuable lesson from their onstage personas – or do they simply prove that sometimes it’s hard to be a friend?

Featuring Adham Aljahmi (Dearborn); Amelia Gilis; Caitlin Macuga (Westland); Allen Wiseman (Roseville). Stage Manager: Michael Hallberg (Fraser).

You can catch this comedy on Thursday, March 6; Friday, March 7; or Saturday March 8, 2013.

The fourth play in the festival rotation is:

“Genius, or Crazy?,” by Megan Barbour (Rochester, NY)
Directed by Shannon Hurst (Warren)
An art student seeks creative advice from the greats when she hits a mental block. Makes perfect sense to this writer!

Featuring Alexis Barrera (Hartland); Carl Bentley (Flat Rock); Dan Finn (Armada); Michael Fisher (Garden City); Joe Sfair (Eastpointe); Allen Wiseman (Roseville). Stage Manager: Maggie Beson (Riverview).

Remaining shows are Saturday, March 1 and Friday, March 7, 2013.

The production team for all four of four shows includes Scenic Designer Christa Tausney (Garden City), Costume Designer Jared Morin (Warren), Lighting Designers John Schmidt (Farmington Hills) and Peter Lawrence (Brownstown), Sound Designer Michael Hallberg (Fraser), Assistant Sound Designer Aaron Beckius (Grosse Pointe), and Properties Designer Jon Piggot (Wyandotte).

For tickets, call 313-577-2972, visit WSU’s online show calendar or visit the box office located at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Avenue, Detroit, at the corner of Cass and Hancock.

Meet the Cast – For the Kids

Adham

(Left to right) Allen Wiseman and Adham Aljahmi in rehearsal

Adham Aljahmi (Will) is a senior BA political science and theatre major. Previous WSU credits include Othello at the Hilberry Theatre.

Allen Wiseman (Cameron) is a first-year student at WSU. Previous WSU credits include American Soldiers.

Amanda Gillis (Liz) is a third-year BA theatre major. Previous credits include Rocky Horror Picture Show, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Back to the 80s.

Caitlyn Macuga (Lindsey) is a second-year BA theatre major. Caitlyn recently held an internship at the Tipping Point Theatre in Northville.

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Caitlyn Macuga in rehearsal

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(Left to Right) Allen Wiseman, Amanda Gillis, and Caitlyn Macuga in rehearsal

Meet the Cast – The Crate

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Left to right – Egla Kishta, Carl Bentley, Chris Peterson

Carl Bentley is a third-year BFA acting major. WSU credits include ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Our Town, Time Stands Still, and Othello.

Michael Fisher is a senior BA theatre major. Previous WSU credits include Macbeth at the Hilberry Theatre and Broken Glass and Time Stands Still at the Studio Theatre. Michael also performed in The Seagull at Henry Ford Community College.

Left to right - Michael Fisher, Chris Peterson

Left to right – Michael Fisher, Chris Peterson

Egla Kishta is a fourth-year sociology student from Clinton Township. This is her first production at Wayne State University. Pervious credits include Western Michigan University’s studio production of SubUrbia.

Chris Peterson is a third-year BA theatre major. Previous credits include Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and Macbeth.

Meet the cast – Genius, or Crazy?

GENIUS

Michael Fisher and Joe Sfair

Alexis Barrera (Anita) is a second-year BA theatre major. Previous WSU credits include Dead Man’s Cell Phone.

Carl Bentley (John) is third-year BFA acting major. WSU credits include Our Town, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Othello, and Time Stands Still.

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Dan Finn and Alexis Barrera

Allen Wiseman (Philippe) is a first-year student at WSU. Previous WSU credits include American Soldiers.

Michael Fisher (Hemmingway) is a senior BA theatre major.  Previous WSU credits include Broken Glass and Time Stands Still. Michael also performed in The Seagull at Henry Ford Community College.

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Carl Bentley and Allen Wiseman

Joe Sfair (Van Gogh) is a second-year BA theatre major.  Previous WSU credits include Macbeth and A New Play By Neil Simon.

Dan Finn (Cobain) is a third-year BFA acting major. Previous WSU credits include Our Town and The Crucible. Dan was also a stage manager for the 2012 Heck-Rabi Festival.

Meet the Directors – Katelyn Foster, Shannon Hurst, Kelly Robinson, and Lisa Youngs

Katelyn Foster  Foster

Katelyn is in her fourth year at Wayne State University studying theater and German.  She was last seen on the Bonstelle Stage as Mrs. Webb in Our Town. She is very excited to be directing for the first time in the Studio Theater. Next year she will be studying abroad in Germany and interning at Rationaltheater, an independent theater in Munich.

Katie is the director for The Crate by David Sterritt, playing February 28 and March 6 and 8 at the Heck-Rabi Festival.

Katie in rehearsal

Katie in rehearsal

HurstShannon Hurst

Shannon Hurst is a third year BFA acting student who is excited to be working on the Heck-Rabi Festival for the third year in a row! Previously, she stage managed two Heck-Rabi productions: The Diary of Herbie and Madge and A New Play by Neil Simon. WSU acting credits include The Crucible, The Woman in Black, and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Shannon is directing Genius, or Crazy? by Megan Barbour. See it February 27, and March 1 and 7 at the Heck-Rabi Festival.

Shannon in rehearsal

Shannon in rehearsal

RobinsonKelly Robinson

Kelly is a fourth-year BFA acting major. WSU credits include Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Hairspray, Broken Glass and Bat Boy.

Kelly’s show, For the Kids by Brent Griffith, will run every night of the Heck-Rabi Festival, February 27-28 and March 1 and 6-8.

Kelly in rehearsal

Kelly in rehearsal

YoungsLisa Youngs

Lisa is a senior BFA acting major. She has been seen at WSU in Savage in Limbo, 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, Arabian Nights and this semester’s Birth and After Birth at the Studio Theatre. She is ecstatic to try the directing hat on for size with Jazz Duet in a Minor Key!

Jazz Duet in a Minor Key by Topher Payne will run every night of the Heck-Rabi Festival, February 27-28 and March 1 and 6-8.

lisa in rehearsal

Lisa in rehearsal

Heck-Rabi Festival: A History

Furnishings, 2010

Furnishings, 2010

Since the first competition in the 2001-02 Season, the Heck-Rabi Festival has provided an opportunity for young playwrights to see their work produced at the Studio Theatre since the first competition in the 2001-02 Season. The featured plays are selected from entries to the Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Competition, sponsored by a collaboration between the Department of Theatre and Dance and the English Department at Wayne State University. Finalists in the competition receive a reading in the fall, and winners are selected for full productions at the Festival each spring.

Brutelles, 2005

Brutelles, 2005

Winners of the very first annual competition in 2002 included Supertrain by Fred Shahadi, a graduate of the Hilberry Graduate Repertory Training Program; Mirror Images by Mildordean Luster, who was, at the time, the Director of Arts Education at the Detroit Repertory Theatre; and Saturday Night at the Agora by Christopher W. Grant, another Hilberry graduate, who also went on to place in the second annual Heck-Rabi Competition.

The Festival continues to provide production and scholarship opportunities to playwrights since that first season.  This year’s winning plays will be featured at the Festival February 27-March 8. Tickets are available at wsushows.com.

2001-02
Supertrain Fred Shahadi
Mirror Images Milfordean Luster
Saturday Night at the Agora Christopher W. Gilbert
2002-03
The Real Thing Joshua Eikenberry
At Ease Eddie Collins
There Were Roses Christopher W. Gilbert
2003-04
Life Game Blair Franklin
Storm Warning Isaac Williams, Jr.
2004-05
Cutting In Andrew Huff
The Brutelles Ian Drife
Just Enough Time Tony Bozzuto
2005-06
The Milkman Ian Drife
Drinks and Dancing Carly Germany
Sheepish Love Justin Vidovic
2006-07
Zoo Swan Danielle Etienne
Absolute Value Pietro
Waiting with Beckett Christopher M. Bohan
2007-08
Bleeding Red Michael Brian Ogden
Stop Your Ears Andrew Charles Lark
2008-09
The Kings of Unionville James Kuhl
Help Wanted Dylan Stuckey
Dog Girl Suicide Lauren Reynolds
2009-10
Easy As Hard Can Be Alan Ball
Furnishings Gregory Bailey
All Kinds of Men Erman Jones
2011-12
The Diary of Herbie and Madge Dave Toomey
Poinsettia Blues Carollette Phillips
Her Edmund Alyn Jones
2012-13
A New Play by Neil Simon David Toomey
Hurts So Good Carollette Phillips and Edmund Alyn Jones
Chiseled Laura Heikkinen
2013-14
For the Kids Brent Griffith
Jazz Duet in a Minor Key Topher Payne
Genius, or Crazy? Megan Barbour
The Crate David Sterritt