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The Old Pueblo Playwrights present three days of brand-new works

The members of Old Pueblo Playwrights have some unfinished business with you. They're hauling out several not-quite-polished plays for you to critique during their 14th annual new play festival.

These plays have already gone through months of writing, workshopping and revising, so it's not as if they're raw pieces, hard to digest. But this will be their first public performances, as staged readings, and as part of the festival, the audience is invited to stick around after each performance and talk back frankly to the playwrights.

"That's really the main point of this process," says OPP member Gavin Kayner. "They've been discussed in our tight little group, and now we're opening it to the wider audience to get more diverse critiques to help us enhance the plays further and get them out for a production."

But isn't it a little scary for a playwright to face an audience right after a show? "Well, I haven't seen any brutality yet," says Kayner. "People tend to be gentle with their comments."

Old Pueblo Playwrights currently has 14 members, and is open to more people interested in sharing their works in progress with like-minded writers.

"Throughout the year," explains Kayner, "members bring in their plays for group critiques. After at least two of those critiques, the plays are eligible to be voted on by members to see if they're festival-ready. If the majority votes yea, then the play is considered again in December in a revote. Probably 90 percent of the ones that have gone through a second or third reading get into the show."

This year's festival opens Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. with three one-act plays, including Kayner's Interior Dialogues. "I got the idea from looking at the plaster cast sculptures done by George Segal," says Kayner. "They've always spoken to me, figuratively, so I tried do formulate a play about the inner stories we have, the dialogue we don't share even with the person sitting next to us. It has several couples trying to communicate but talking only through their inner selves and never to the person next to them."

Sharing the bill is The Wall by Frances Feld, and Share the Pretzels by Gary James. "Let's just say The Wall is an allegory about world affairs; I don't want to give it away," says Kayner. Share the Pretzels concerns a bartender and a mysterious stranger at closing time.

Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. brings Kayner's full-length Grace Notes. In it, a musician with Lou Gehrig's Disease chooses to circumvent her suffering. "It looks at what that means to the four men who love her," Kayner says. "It's kind of a heavy play."

More frolicsome is the Feb. 5 matinee at 3 p.m., Richard Chaney's Tea for Three, which Kayner describes as "almost a Noël Coward-type play exploring the nuances of the relationships between lovers, past lovers and acquaintances."

The festival concludes at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 with two offerings. Thirty Pages is a short by Cassie Gonzales, "a quirky, really poetic little piece involving three characters and their relationships with each other." The Way Life Should Be by Leslie Powell is something Kayner describes as "a story about families, and what constitutes a family."

With luck, the plays will live beyond these staged readings. "Personally," says Kayner, "what I do is I take the comments I get from the festival, rework the play, then I send it to venues or different production companies that seem to fit that particular play, or I send it to contests, and just try to get it out there."

Among OPP plays that have gone on to bigger and better things are Kayner's Thumbs, read two years ago in the festival and recently selected as a finalist in the Long Beach New Works Festival. Adrienne Perry's White Garden, another past OPP festival item, was just produced in Tucson by Green Thursday.

"We're always looking for new people interested in the theater," Kayner points out. "Our membership is open. People can just sit in on a meeting to see what's rockin'."

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