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

2014 Louise Heck-Rabi Dramatic Writing Festival

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.


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