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CATF’s 21st season begins today

By Staff | Jul 8, 2011

John Ottavino, left, as ‘Byron’ and Anderson Matthews as ‘Ames’ in Sam Shepard's ‘Ages of the Moon,’ which opens tonight at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. (Photo by Ron Blunt)

Tuesday night, in the midst of tiered seats at the Studio Theater on North King Street, a dimly lit stage sat adorned with a long wooden table and four chairs. Newspapers, notepads, a telephone and other props dotted on the table.

The actors cast in David Mamet’s Contemporary American Theater Festival production of “Race” sat backstage as volunteer ushers for the festival trickled in to serve as the dress rehearsal’s audience.

And then the lights dimmed.

Today marks the official launch of Season 21 for CATF which will run through July 31. The festival will showcase five original American plays, selected by Producing Director Ed Herendeen.

And for Herendeen, nothing beats being able to produce the country’s newest plays in West Virginia’s oldest town, something he believes is a great contrast.

John Lescault, left, as ‘Samuel’ with Andy Bean as ‘Charles’ and Julianna Zinkel as ‘Anna’ perform in ‘From Prague,’ Kyle Bradstreet's piece that will premiere at Season 21 of CATF. (Photo by Ron Blunt)

“There’s something very magical about this community,” he said. “We are a community that embraces art Art provides heat in the cold and light in the dark.”

He said Shepherdstown provides a safe place for playwrights and actors to take risks with their shows.

John Lescault, in his second season with CATF, said the festival takes place in a pastoral setting but draws an urban crowd.

“I love CATF and what Herendeen is doing here,” said Lescault, who will perform in the world premiere of Kyle Bradstreet’s “From Prague.” “There’s nowhere else like this in the United States.”

And in three venues around Shepherdstown, five plays written within the past few years will come to life, Herendeen said.

Pulitzer-prize winners Mamet and Sam Shepard will show their plays “Race” and “Ages of the Moon,” respectively, directed by Herendeen himself.

Playwright Tracy Thorne’s production of “We Are Here,” directed by Lucie Tiberghien, will tell the story of a family trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, melding together the family’s past and present.

And this year’s festival will also present two world premieres Bradstreet’s “From Prague” and Lucy Thurber’s “The Insurgents.”

The CATF-commissioned play by Thurber ties together John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Timothy McVeigh and Nat Turner’s stories in a family’s quest for identity and survival. Herendeen said Thurber has been in residence throughout the entire process collaborating with director Lear deBessonet.

“Lear, like a laser beam, is focused on bringing that play to life,” Herendeen said.

Herendeen also directed Bradstreet’s “From Prague,” which was in the process of readings in Bradstreet’s Brooklyn apartment when it was selected for CATF Season 21.

“I’m very excited for Kyle,” said Andy Bean, who plays “Charles” in Bradstreet’s show. “This is his first fully mounted, fully realized show.”

“From Prague,” a monologue-based show about varying levels of faith and a family torn, stars Lescault, Bean and Julianna Zinkel. The show opened Wednesday, July 6 during the pay-what-you-can previews in the Center for Contemporary Arts theater, a small studio space in which the stage is surrounded by tiered seating on two sides.

Bean said the space will allow for audience members to take a journey with the actors through the show, eventually landing them on the same page. He said the almost “voyeuristic” setting allows audience members to look into the characters’ close, personal stories.

“It’s a very intimate story that’s enhanced by the intimacy of the space,” Lescault said.

And the actors, the only full cast in the company performing in a single show, expressed excitement to perform opening weekend.

“It’s a very dark play,” Zinkel said, “but I’m feeling a sort of excitement and lightness to sort of share it with people.”

“When it’s told out loud to people, there’s a lightness to it and a likeness to it,” Bean said.

Zinkel added, “It’s kind of like the race horse at the gate ready. Waiting.”

“Chomping at the bit,” Lescault said.

For more information, visit www.catf.org or call 304-876-3473.