South Florida audiences get to experience the creative process in action thank to Jan McArt’s New Play Reading Series at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
In its fifth season, the series presents playwrights with the rare opportunity to rehearse and perform staged readings with a seasoned director and actors, culminating in performances that attract hundreds to the university’s Wold Performing Arts Center.
The series has led to the critical and commercial success of Michael McKeever’s “Daniel’s Husband,” which was performed by Island City Stage last spring and will be revived in Boca Raton later this year. Zoetic Stage in Miami opens “Stripped” this weekend. The drama from Christopher Demos-Brown also got its start at Lynn.
This year, the series offers four new works by gay playwrights: “The Vivian Vance Story” by Eric H. Weinberger, directed by John Tolley, Nov. 2; “The Goldberg Variations” by Stuart Meltzer, directed by Margaret Ledford, Jan. 11; “Wave Your Flag” by Tony Finstrom, directed by Wayne Rudisell, Feb. 15; and “Middletown” by Dan Clancy, directed by Peter Pileski, March 7.
Weinberger’s musical biography of Vivian Vance will explore her origins in Kansas and New Mexico, early career as a starlet and the longtime personal and professional relationship with Lucille Ball.
“I’ve always been a big fan of ‘I Love Lucy’ and was interested in the backstories of the actors,” explained Weinberger, who splits his time between New York City and Key West. “Her life was so different from Ethyl Mertz.”
While drafting the play, he actually developed a relationship with Vance’s youngest sister, who is now 91 years old and gave the play her blessing.
“We’ve become buddies,” Weinberger said.
Stuart Meltzer, who will be premiering “The Goldberg Variations” is perhaps best known as a director and educator, guiding Zoetic Stage’s many award-winning productions and teaching students at the New World School for the Arts in Miami.
Meltzer had been wanting to write the story of a family that must deal with a parent’s failing health for many years, a story inspired by his own experiences.
“It’s not something I do often and living with a playwright (partner Michael McKeever), one of my goals was not to be competitive with the person you’re romantically involved with,” Meltzer said. “This gives me the opportunity to work on something that’s been inside me for a while.”
While the play is not complete—he says a deadline is great for “propelling” projects along—he expects it to be poignant and funny, even though illness and death are heavy topics for any family.
“My personal goal is to have the audience think while they’re laughing and I know we can get there,” elaborated Meltzer.
Tony Finstrom is a true veteran of the series. He’s had works read every season and also serves as associate producer. More importantly, he’s an avid promoter through his email list of thousands of theater fans around the world, Tony’s Latest.
Again, his new work, “Wave Your Flags” features producer Jan McArt, widely known as “Florida’s First Lady of Theater.” The play with music is the story of Hollywood actors traveling on a cross country train trip to both sell war bonds for the war effort and promote their new film about Betsy Ross. Finstrom promises some twists that are sure to intrigue audiences, too.
Concluding the season is Dan Clancy’s “Middletown.” South Florida audiences still talk about his play “The Timekeepers,” a touching story of the relationship between Jewish and gay prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. Island City Stage’s production swept the 2014 Carbonell Awards with a groundbreaking production.
Like the other featured playwrights, Clancy had wanted to write his story for some time: Two suburban New Jersey couples nostalgically reminisce about a friendship spanning 37 years, their marriages, their families, their joys and disappointments.
One of the couples “grieves” over the life their gay child has had to endure. Clancy explores “the guilt that they feel—that their genes made life more difficult for their kids.”
Like the others, Clancy is thankful for the opportunities the series provides to hone their plays.
“It’s not about the directors or the actors or the playwrights. It’s all about the play. (This series) is a real gift,” he said.
Jan McArt’s New Play Reading Series opens Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wold Performing Arts Center on the campus of Lynn University in Boca Raton. Tickets are $10 or $30 for the four play series at Lynn.edu/events.