New York City playwright Olga Humphrey’s kooky comedy “Magnificent Hubba Hubba,” chronicling the fierce rivalry between elderly professional female wrestlers, received top honors Sunday, July 23 at the 27th annual Dayton Playhouse FutureFest of new, unproduced plays held July 21-23.
Set in San Diego and inspired by the 2004 documentary “Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling,” “Hubba Hubba” reunites hardnosed, vulgar Lucille (a.k.a. The Magnificent Hubba Hubba) and genteel Alice (a.k.a. Headlock Liplock) for a full-throttle smackdown for the ages. As their contentious relationship transpires among a gaggle of eccentric characters, introverted teenager Roy weaves his way into their lives as an unexpected confidant, especially for Lucille whose estranged granddaughter Lulu is the object of Roy’s affection.
“Magnificent Hubba Hubba” scored highest among six plays, evenly split as a staged reading or fully staged performance, based on judging criteria including dramatic concept, character/language, plot, and page-to-stage. Forty percent of the vote was based on the judges’ initial reading of the script. The remaining 60 percent derived from the judges’ revised ranking at the festival. This year’s professional adjudicators were New York-based journalist Peter Filichia, New York-based director/producer/writer Ashley Rodbro, Texas-based director/producer/writer Helen Sneed, Eileen J. Morris, Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas, and James Vagias, Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the American Theater Group in South Orange, New Jersey. The play was also named this year’s Audience Favorite.
“These characters are easy to love,” Morris said of Humphrey’s script. “The language is varied and delightfully intriguing. You definitely see the emotional arcs of the characters.”
“There is something believable about this play’s universe,” Sneed added. “This play could have a real life, a real future and extended life, not just in the professional world but the non-professional world. It’s a standout comedy.”
“It’s a real laugh-fest,” echoed Vagias.
“I’m really shocked,” reflected Humphrey who received the top prize of $1,000. “One of my favorite things is going to a new city and hearing my work done. I enjoyed all the playwrights and hearing our perspectives. I was so impressed with all of the plays. They were so strong and there was a really high bar. We experienced great writing. It’s very exciting to have a comedy honored. I’m really excited about that. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful birth of this play.”
Under the lively, flavorfully authentic, how-in-the-world-did-she-pull-it-off direction of Annie Pesch, the production’s stellar, fully staged presentation Saturday, July 22 was led by the outstandingly committed duo of Becky Howard as Lucille and Fran Pesch as Alice. Funny and savvy support stemmed from Thomas L. Troutman as Roy, Hannah Stickel as Lulu, David Hallowren as Zane/Announcer, and Melissa Ertsgaard and Shanna Camacho in various roles. Jeff Sams notably served as wrestling coach and assisted Annie Pesch with fight choreography. As Humphrey develops her work, she should consider fleshing out or eliminating the prickly relationship between Lulu and Roy, a subplot too prominent to remain unengaging. Also, creating a surprisingly tender Act 2 moment for Lucille and Alice, establishing a sense of sisterhood addressing the hard knocks of competing in the wresting world, would be a refreshing addition in terms of broadening the play’s depth. Still, “Magnificent Hubba Hubba” is the epitome of unforgettable. After all, I saw things I can never unsee which is part of its offbeat charm.
The praiseworthy remaining finalists chosen from across the country were: “On Pine Knoll Street,” a touching family dramedy about aging, connection and forgiveness by Mark Cornell of Chapel Hill, North Carolina delicately directed fully staged by Richard Lee Waldeck on Friday, July 21; “First, Do No Harm,” a drama about race and healthcare by J. Thalia Cunningham of Delmar, New York directed as a staged reading by Jackie Darnell on Saturday, July 22; “Wake,” a fascinating contemporary ghost story about marriage, sacrifice and the beguiling power of storytelling by Vince Gatton of New York City directed as a staged reading by Tim Rezash on Saturday, July 22; “The Spanish Prayer Book,” a drama concerning history and ethics by Angela J. Davis of Los Angeles, California directed as a staged reading by KJ Melson on Sunday, July 23; and the Maya Angelou and social justice-inspired racial drama “The Puppeteer,” an excellently sweeping, gripping and relevant account of identity and struggle within the African-American experience from the glories of the Harlem Renaissance to the angst of the Trump Era by Desireé York of Rancho Santa Margarita, California strikingly directed fully staged with cultural flair by Kip Moore on Sunday, July 23. Each playwright was awarded $100.
The remaining commendable casts were: “On Pine Knoll Street,” featuring Renee Franck-Reed as Thelma, Cheryl A. Mellen as Marilyn, John-Michael Lander as Curtis, Kari Carter as Kristie, and Raef Norgaard as Mitchell; “First, Do No Harm,” featuring A. Slate as Dr. Elissa Kerry, Shanna Camacho as Dr. Alison Taylor, Joyce Barnes as Mattie Clester, Kip Moore as Dwayne Hatcher, Jennifer Lockwood as Female Actor, Keshawn Mellon as Male Actor, and Charlotte Harris as Narrator; “Wake,” featuring Brian Sharp as Dan, Mark Sharp as Eric, Michael Groomes as Terrell, Shyra Thomas as Esme, and Jason Penix as Charlie; “The Spanish Prayer Book,” featuring Jim Lockwood as Jacob Adler, Cynthia Karns as Joan Adler, Kerry Simpson as Michaela Adler, Matthew Lindsay as Julien Nazir, Jonathan Horwitz as Alexander Adler/Christopher Howell, Karin Henhapel in multiple roles, understudies/stage readers Michael Juergens and Niccole Sue Ann Wallace, and guitarist Richard Prigozen; and “The Puppeteer,” dynamically led by versatile newcomer Carolyn L. Seymour (remarkably conveying various ages and emotions while navigating a journey spanning nearly 100 years) as Constance/Connie and featuring Jacob Smith as Robert/Christopher, Michael Schumacher as Ernie/Mr. Hotchkiss, Chelsey Hall as Miss Dunston, Corrine Duperree as Mrs. Covington, Tamar Fishbein as Ms. Jenkins, and Vicki Thompson Tuccillo as Ms. Evans.
Additionally, the festival kicked off Thursday, July 20 with a special staged reading of Filichia’s new play “Adam’s Gifts,” a contemporary, endearing, briefly unnerving, and uniquely non-seasonal update of “A Christmas Carol” with nods to “Oliver Twist” and “Pygmalion.” Directed by Tina McPhearson and narrated by Kelli Locker, the fine cast featured Saul Caplan as illiterate slumlord William Pront, Matthew Lindsay as William’s overworked employee Jason Romano and mobster Sam Falcon, Tori Kocher as sassy spiritual guide Glynis, Cassandra Engber as Jason’s ex-wife Lisa Pinewski and William’s former flame Mary Chalmers, and a heartfelt Jack Lockwood in a breakthrough performance as Jason and Lisa’s sickly son Adam Romano and impressionable Young William, raised by Sam amid troubling circumstances.
Mark your calendars: The 28th annual FutureFest will be held July 20-22, 2018. For more information, visit www.daytonplayhouse.com.
My FutureFest Rankings:
1. “The Puppeteer”
2. “Magnificent Hubba Hubba”
4. “On Pine Knoll Street”
5. “First, Do No Harm”
6. “The Spanish Prayer Book”