Some people think that you have to live in a place like New York City to break new artistic ground. The upcoming Fondren Theatre Workshop (FTW) presentation features four dramatic works by local playwrights—all performed by local actors. It may not be in New York City, but it does break new artistic ground. The variety of drama, comedy, themes and styles promises a wonderful mix of intelligent, entertaining theater. The staged readings of the plays will take place at The House of Brews Coffee House at The Artery, 3220 N. State St., July 14-17.
"We began with the concept of this project last year," said Diana Howell, a co-founder of FTW. "We wanted to do new material, and we wanted local audiences to hear new material."
Plays being presented include "Fretless" by Robert "Kit" Williamson, "The Mice" by John Howell, "What You Don't See" by Beth Kander and "Writer's Cramp" by JC Patterson.
"Fretless" offers a snapshot of three New York City bums. Primarily a character piece, the script hinges on the relationships and quirks of the characters, including those things that matter most to them. The dialogue in this piece is very finely tuned, with undertones of Samuel Beckett. Williamson, a Jackson native who is currently attending Fordham University in New York, is only 19, but he has already written 10 plays. He's also a JFP intern and hopes to produce another full-length work in Jackson sometime in the near future. One of his plays will also be staged next year in New York.
"The Mice," a black comedy, was authored by local actor and FTW co-founder John Howell, recently seen in the FTW's "The Sound of Steel," also presented by the FTW.) The script details an evening in the lives of Jerry Masters and his wife Lynn. The two live in a house overrun by mice, which they have unsuccessfully been attempting to eradicate. In an absurd development, the mice confront Masters with his many crimes against the animal kingdom. He is then forced to defend his actions to an increasingly annoyed committee of mice.
"I enjoyed working with the idea of cornering one character and making him the scapegoat for all humanity's ills," said Howell, of the philosophical script. "As a writer, I seem to work best allegorically, or with fantasy, rather than directly describing things in literal terms."
"What You Don't See" is a collection of monologues, featuring both men and women, that attempts to debunk appearance-based stereotypes. Author Beth Kander introduces, among other characters, a sick doctor, a fitness instructor who no longer trusts her body and an obese woman who prefers to revel in her considerable size. The monologues are varied and tightly written, allowing many of the interesting corners of humanity a full airing.
"Writer's Cramp," a comedic rendering of the writer's attempt to create, was written by JC Patterson. (If you've done much theater-going in the Jackson area, you've probably seen at least one of Patterson's live theater performances. He has also appeared in local television spots and is a published author.) The script spoofs popular television shows and movies, as well as rusty writing clichés.
Jason Moulder, a graphic designer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, moonlights as a performer, appearing in all four of the readings.
"This is a particularly exciting experience because these are new play projects," said Moulder. "I get the chance to meet new authors and be one of the first people to read these works. It's almost a pioneering experience. I get to be one of the first people to invent the character."
The scripts themselves are astonishingly good. I've read a lot of plays, and I've seen a lot of plays. These scripts are just as good, if not better, than many of the scripts I've read. So if "some people" have anything to say about the talent right here in Jackson, tell them to meet me at the Fondren Theatre Workshop next week. I can't wait to see their reaction.
Admission is $5, and the scripts do contain some mature language and subject matter. Patrons should arrive at the coffeehouse about 30 minutes early for the 7 p.m. show, as seating is limited. (And double mocha lattés take time to prepare.) For more information, call 601-982-2217.