For Part 1 see here.
Briefly: another mass shooting by a disaffected white male (this in Dayton, Ohio—home of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar), and for me, in Chicago, the last day of Victory Gardens Theater’s new plays reading festival Ignition.
The two plays I saw were the best of the lot (mind you I missed two): [hieroglyph] by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and The Gradient by Steph Del Rosso. The first was my favorite. The story felt primal like Aeschylus, compactly telling about a child’s rape in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The acting was unambiguously strong. The second was a flawless tour de force more along the lines of something Tom Stoppard would do.
The plays were all billed as “works in progress,” but it was hard to see where many of them could be improved upon. Of the four I saw, Exal Iraheta’s was the weakest; but he also presented as the youngest, least experienced playwright. Geraldine Inoa’s was the most ambitious; Act II or the second half flailed, but the story held. Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s was the most perfectly realized, without slack, and a serious sincerity of purpose. Del Rosso’s was perfectly executed, with a strong cast, providing laughs by the minute, but probably not a lot of substance there to bear repeated viewing or prolonged reflection.
In between shows, a panel of playwrights sat for an hour, comprised of Exal Iraheta, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, and two whose plays I did not see: Meghan Brown and Keelay Gipson. The conversation ran the gambit; questions or comments ran away from moderator Chay Yew’s initially-set parameters toward the end, making for an unsatisfying conclusion, and one heavily self-enamored voice seemed to hog the bulk of the conversation (mainly in response to moderator questions).
Somebody I overheard before showtime stated that Keelay Gipson’s play was the worst of the festival; but Gipson himself seemed like he had the most interesting things to say, so I question the assessment. Would that he had had more opportunity to speak. One surprising thing he said—an important lesson that he had only begun to learn after some experience—is that he would not let other people write his plays for him.
It’s an odd postulate—to let others write “your” play—and you almost wonder how he initially had come by such an odd formulation. Almost, I say, because the workshop industry is no new phenomenon.