Introspective character study “Nureyev’s Eyes” by David Rush of Murphysboro, Illinois took top honors at the 22nd annual Dayton Playhouse FutureFest, a nationally recognized festival of previously unproduced works in progress held July 27-29 at the Playhouse.
Delicately directed by Annie Pesch, “Nureyev’s Eyes” chronicled the 1970s bond between American painter Jamie Wyeth and legendary Russian dancer Rudolph Nureyev. This one-act two-hander, told from Wyeth’s perspective and heightened by projections of his attractive creations, commendably if tamely explored the depths of artistic complexity and the value of friendship. Although the play, bound to entice the New York arts community, remains unbalanced in terms of its narrative and thematic appeal (the meekly Wyeth isn’t as compelling or exciting as the deliciously fussy Nureyev) perhaps Rush will regard the protagonists as engrossing equals in future rewrites. Darren Brown’s breakthrough performance as Nureyev, an impressive blend of sophistication, flair, pomposity and heartbreak authentically molded vocally by dialect coach Fran Pesch, and Tim Behnken’s earnest portrayal of Wyeth memorably climaxed with a tender pas de deux choreographed by Gayle Smith.
“I was surprised that I had won because the quality of all the plays was so high,” said Rush, awarded $1,000 for his winning work. “But I was very pleased to learn that my play held the stage and had the power to entertain and move an audience. I have had several other readings of the play and have had a few production inquiries. I now feel the play is ready to move ahead.”
“Nureyev’s Eyes” was also chosen as the audience favorite, scored highest among six finalists based on criteria such as character development, concept, language and plot. This year’s professional adjudicating team consisted of New York-based trio David Finkle, Helen Sneed and Eleanore Speert, 2002 FutureFest finalist Robert Koon (“Vintage Red and the Dust of the Road”) of Chicago Dramatists and 1997 FutureFest winner Faye Sholiton (“The Interview”), who founded Interplay Jewish Theatre in Cleveland.
“Nureyev’s Eyes” has a lot of theatricality in a play with just two people – that is extraordinary,” said Sholiton. “Language is character, and there is growth and consistency with each character.” “The most moving thing “Nureyev’s Eyes” does is make us understand ourselves,” added Koon. “This is a wonderful play about the power of art to make our lives bigger.”
The remaining finalists, chosen from over 170 submissions across the country and internationally, were the Canadian suffrage-themed romantic comedy “A Political Woman” by 2010 FutureFest finalist Joel Fishbane (“Short Story Long”) of Quebec, Canada; the wine and World War II-themed drama “Provenance” by Daniel Weber of Great Neck, New York; noir-tinged mystery “Curve” by Sam Havens of Houston, Texas; overlapping fossil and family-themed drama “Excavation” by Robert Barron of New York City; and futuristic family drama “This Rough Magic” by 2009 FutureFest finalist Richard Manley (“Quietus”) of New York City. Each playwright received $100.
In addition to Brown and Behnken, the FutureFest casts consisted of Sarah Caplan, Matthew Glenn, Ray Geiger, Shawn Hooks, Jennifer Lockwood and Laura Bloomingdale of “A Political Woman” under the direction of Cynthia Karns; Saul Caplan, Ellen Finch, Megan Cooper and Alex Carmichael of “Provenance” under the direction of David Shough; Geoff Burkman, Ernest Lawson, Debra Strauss and Laura Estandia of “Curve” under the direction of Jim Lockwood; Dave Gaylor, Shawn Hooks, Aidan Kesson, Lynn Kesson, Brad Bishop, Michael D. Halsey, Charles Larkowski, Annie Branning and Franklin Johnson of “Excavation” under the direction of Nancy Campbell; and Richard Croskey, Carol Narigon, John Bukowski, Wendi Michael, Kelli Locker and Richard Young of “This Rough Magic” under the direction of Gayle Smith.
Rush won the 2006 FutureFest for his whimsical comedy “Estelle Singerman” (he is the first repeat winner in the festival’s history) and remains grateful for the opportunity to have been showcased once more. He warmly regards the festival as a vital component in the growth of emerging plays and playwrights.
“Festivals like FutureFest are very important to the development of new plays for the American theater because it gives writers a chance to see how their play works before an audience in a non-commercial, no-risk situation,” he said. “We learn what holds the audience, what material is clear or not, what needs to be added or cut. Plus, such festivals give us a chance to meet and share our work with fellow playwrights.”
For more information about FutureFest or to submit a play for next year’s festival, visit www.daytonplayhouse.com. For additional information, contact FutureFest program director Fran Pesch at (937) 424-8477 or e-mail [email protected]
My FutureFest Rankings:
- “A Political Woman”
- “Nureyev’s Eyes”
- “This Rough Magic”
In other news:
- The Dayton Playhouse’s special fundraising screening of Frank Catalano’s family drama “Autumn Sweet,” originally presented by First Stage Productions under the direction of Greg Smith, will be held Saturday, August 4 at 7 p.m. at the Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave. The film is produced by John and Marty Riley and features John Riley, Ame Clase, Dodie Lockwood, Micah Stock and Jim Harworth. A suggested donation of $10 will be accepted at the door. For more information, contact the Playhouse at (937) 424-8477.
- David Brush, artistic director of Encore Theater Company, is the lead producer of the Aug. 31-Sept. 8 New York developmental production of “Hot Mess in Manhattan: The Musical,” starring Cait Doyle. “This funny, touching musical features the work of no less than 12 of the most exciting new songwriters and songwriting teams working today,” said Brush in an e-mail statement. “If you want to hear the new sound of the American musical, ‘Hot Mess in Manhattan’ is it. And if you want to see the birth of a star, look no further than Cait Doyle.” In order to fund the workshop, to be held in association with the New York Theatre Barn and the Araca Project, the “Hot Mess” creative team is reaching out to the public for tax-deductible contributions. If you would like to contribute or would like more information about the show, visit hotmessinmanhattan.com.
- The Muse Machine will present “Too Darn Hot: The Songs of Summer” Thursday, August 9 at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Concert selections encompass Broadway, disco, classical and pop. Tickets are $20-$52. For tickets or more information, contact Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or www.ticketcenterstage.com.