Serious Drama, Served Fast

Joan O'Dwyer is a woman besieged--by both the joys and the challenges of owning a downtown playhouse, as well as by screenwriters who want her to critique their screenplays. "People were sending me their full-length scripts and wanting me to read them and send them back with comments," says O'Dwyer. "I love reading screenplays--that's mostly all I read--but I really couldn't do all that. It was taking up so much time, and people were getting angry and calling me up saying, 'I gave you my script! Where are my comments?' and it was just too much."

O'Dwyer's solution was to create the first annual "15-Minutes-of-Wilde-Fame Play Contest." ("I know!" she says. "It's the longest darn title ever! I didn't know what to do!") Twelve playwrights entered the contest--which required not only that they write a winning script, but be prepared to find actors and directors in the event that their play was chosen--and from the 12, O'Dwyer chose four scripts to move on to the semifinals. All four plays will be presented on Wilde Playhouse's stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 7 and 8; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9.

"These 15-minute plays are not easy to do," O'Dwyer points out. "It's really hard to pack a lot of drama and character development into a play that short. But these four, they're really quite good. I was impressed--totally impressed."

The one-person show Flyer, by Adrienne Perry, is the story of a man who arrives at the World Trade Center to deliver a presentation, but finds himself alone while the sounds of death and destruction explode around him. "At first," says O'Dwyer, "he's telling himself there's something to live for," but when the bodies begin falling, "he realizes that this is it--this is really, really it."

Waiting, by Susan Arnold, finds people in adrift in a hospital waiting room, and though it seems initially as if they don't know each other, name mix-ups and incremental developments reveal relationships between characters. Tea for Three "is about three people in a ménage a trios who go out for tea and decide to change their relationship a little bit," says O'Dwyer. She then adds, giggling, "So, you know, it's kind of exciting."

Child's Play--written by Kolby Granville and Ry Herman--is "really cool, and very funny," according to O'Dwyer. "It's about a little girl who's playing with her dolls, but the dolls, which are played by two actors, are actually reflecting what's going on in her sad and troubled life."

Despite the difficulties of packing serious drama into 15-minute productions, the five authors of the four plays clearly weren't afraid to try. And although O'Dwyer made the first round of cuts, how well each play ultimately succeeded will be left up to Wilde audiences to judge.

Wilde's $20,000 "Option Finder" system will allow up to 100 attendees to instantaneously and confidentially cast their vote on each of the three nights. On Sunday, the votes will be tallied, and the winner will be announced on the playhouse's giant overhead screen.

Hosting the competition, says O'Dwyer, has allowed her (and Tucson) "to see what kind of local talent we have. And it's not really a competition," she adds. "Almost all of the writers of these plays have gone to Old Pueblo and developed their scripts there ... and there's a real comradery among the writers. One director of one play is actually the playwright for another, and vice-versa.

"It shows a lot of initiative for them (the writers) to do this," she adds, "because they didn't just have to write the plays; they had to find their own directors, own actors, rehearse in their own homes, get their own props. ... We said we'd provide space and lighting and tech, but they haven't really wanted much. Everybody is really easy and happy; it's so much fun. It's like what theatre is all about. I know it sounds idyllic and Pollyannaish, but it's true!"

O'Dwyer says she's impressed also by the diversity of the offerings. "One of them is sort of surreal," she says. "Another is very, very, very realistic; another is more abstract, and the other one is a very modern comedy. So you actually have four different types of plays, all by people who found their way to producing them themselves."

Wilde Playhouse is located at 135 E. Congress St.; admission to any of the three performances is just $5. For reservations and additional information, call 770-1000 or visit www.wildeplayhouse.com.

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