New Play Summit should be a whale of a creative weekend
One of the most important parts of the Denver Center Theatre Company's mission is to introduce local audiences the most interesting, up-and-coming playwrights around -- and to help those playwrights explore their ideas and carry forward their creative work. To further that mission, every year the New Play Summit stages readings of four or five new pieces: some of them duds, some interestingly eccentric, some out-and-out brilliant. Last year those attending the Summit could see a full-blown production of Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, first read at the preceding Summit. The play received raves here and has gone on to critical success in New York.
Tom Alan Robbins in the DCTC's production of The Whale, which started at the Summit.
Samuel D. Hunter has an Obie under his belt, as well as a number of productions and commissions around the country -- and for a while last fall it seemed you couldn't pick up the New York Times without seeing Hunter's face or reading about his work. There was a preview of The Whale, followed by a review. Then came an article about a shake-up in the Playwrights Ensemble roster at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, which retired several writers (including Pulitzer-winner Nilo Cruz and John Logan, author of Red) in favor of four new names. One of those names belonged to Hunter -- and Victory Gardens will produce The Whale in April.
Hunter was also one of four playwrights selected for commissions by the Writer's Room, formed through a collaboration of the Manhattan Theatre Club and Ars Nova. His face appeared in the Times yet again in a joint interview about obesity in fiction with novelist Jami Attenberg (The Whale has a 600-pound protagonist).
Best of all, John Lahr, the estimable critic for the New Yorker, gave The Whale a full-scale review that expressed doubt about the play's ending but concluded, "I have ... no doubt at all about Hunter's promise as a bold theatrical storyteller."
Hunter says he's still shocked by the amount of coverage The Whale received. "I'm a relatively unknown playwright; it's in a 125-seat theater. ... I loved having it in an intimate theater like that," he adds, "and without an intermission so there's no escaping." He was equally delighted with the casting and hopes all the attention means The Whale will continue being staged beyond the productions already
Hunter is particularly happy that The Whale began its life in Denver, he says, because of the caliber of the theater and because "I am from the West and the play is set in the West." He learned from the DCTC production, and has cut about ten minutes from the script, making it "a little richer and a little tighter."
This year Hunter will be resident playwright at the Arena Stage, which means money and health insurance, he says, and the ability to build on his body of work. There are several projects pending and he is a few pages into an entirely new work: "The hardest thing is waiting for that idea that sets you off. Once you get that germ, it's about work -- getting a cup of coffee and putting the work in."
The Summit -- which communicates some idea of just what that work entails -- takes place at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex, 14th and Curtis, tomorrow through Sunday, February 11. The featured playwrights are writers Laura Eason, Karen Zacarias, Catherine Trieschmann, Matthew Lopez and Marcus Gardley; there will be readings all three days and productions of two plays first read at last year's Summit in the evenings: Michael Mitnick's Ed, Downloaded and Laura Feldman's Grace, or the Art of Climbing. For more information, call 303-893-4100 or go to the Denver Center website.