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University of Iowa News Release

April 20, 2006

Iowa New Play Festival, May 1-6 At UI, Makes Drama Of Timely Issues

The Iowa New Play Festival, a tradition unique in American collegiate theater, will present a dozen new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop in productions and readings May 1-6 in the University of Iowa Theatre Building. The plays address timely issues including the Iraq War, tensions in the West Bank, mental illness and militant environmentalism.

The festival will include the UI dramatic debut of Dance Department faculty member George de la Pena (left), whose resume includes prominent film, Broadway and television roles; and a performance by Obie Award winner and Tony Award nominee Charlayne Woodard (right) , who has performed recurring roles in "Law and Order," "Chicago Hope," "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Days of Our Lives" and "Roseanne."

The UI Department of Theatre Arts concludes each spring semester by dedicating all its resources -- acting, directing, design, stage management and technical -- to an intense and event-packed festival that offers student playwrights the productions and feedback that are essential for their development. At the same time, the festival offers audiences an opportunity to participate in the creation of significant new American theater at the ground level.

A new play, written by a student in the Master of Fine Arts program in playwriting, will be premiered each evening of the 2006 festival, with performances at 5:30 and 9 p.m. (7:30 p.m. only on Wednesday). The daytime will feature readings in Room 172.

The evening productions will utilize all the Theatre Buildings major performance spaces.

-- Monday, May 1: "Militant Language" written by Sean Lewis and directed by Kevin Harris, in the David Thayer Theatre. "Militant Language" is set in the midst of the Iraq War, at a desert construction site where two Americans find themselves alone, covered in blood, with a secret to hide.

-- Tuesday, May 2: "The Disappearance of Janey Jones," written by Jennifer Fawcett and directed by Sean Paul Bryan, in E. C. Mabie Theatre. "The Disappearance of Janey Jones" explores the role of genetics, anti-depressants and self-control in a mental illness that has haunted a family for three generations.

-- Wednesday, May 3: "Otto Bingo" (Staged Reading), written by Kim Euell and directed by faculty member Tisch Jones, one performance only at 7:30 p.m. in Theatre B. Charlayne Woodard is joined by faculty member Eric Forsythe -- who also boasts an impressive professional history in films, TV and stage -- in a two-person dialogue at a way station for souls who are in between lives. The play begins as a monologue by Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer (1882-1976), until she is joined by another character with whom she discovers an unusual connection.

-- Thursday, May 4: "Pigheart," written by Sam Hunter and directed by Rachel Edwards Harvith in the David Thayer Theatre. In "Pigheart," a young American who has exiled himself to one of the most dangerous parts of the West Bank is suddenly forced to relive old grudges and painful memories when someone from his past arrives unexpectedly to "make a film."

-- Friday, May 5: "All Grace," written by Chris Leyva and directed by William Barbour in E. C. Mabie Theatre. George de la Pena stars in an epic, metaphorical drama based on the true story of Jewish sculptor Jacques Lipchitz' commission to create a sculpture of the Virgin Mary for a Catholic church high in the Alps.

De la Pena, who began his stage career as a soloist in American Ballet Theatre, played the title role in the Herbert Ross film "Nijinky" opposite Oliver Reed's Diaghilev. His other roles include the films "Personal Best," "Kuffs," "Brain Donors" and "The Mighty Aphrodite"; the Broadway musicals "On Your Toes" and "Woman of the Year"; and the TV shows "Murder She Wrote," "LA Law," "North and South" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." His most recent movies are "The Dust Factory" and "One Last Dance."

-- Saturday, May 6: "Timberland," written by Austin Bunn and directed by Scott Pardue in Theatre B. On the one-year anniversary of a daring tree-sit -- staged 180 feet up in the redwood canopy -- a tragic accident irrevocably alters the political ecology of Humboldt County, Cal.

Tickets for all the evening productions -- $6 for the general public and $4 for UI students, senior citizens and youth -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances. May 1-6, and tickets will also be on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. each day of the festival at the Theatre Building box office.

All the daytime readings are free, and the public is invited to attend. The readings will take place in the Cosmo Catalano Acting Studio, Room 172 of the Theatre Building:

-- Tuesday at 2 p.m., "Ishmael and Isa" by Joshua Casteel.

-- Wednesday at 2 p.m.,"2034: Basket Full of Books" by Greg Machlin.

-- Thursday at 1 p.m., "The Exhibitionists" by Michael Hayden, and 4 p.m., "Hope Falls" by Melissa Leilani Larson.

-- Friday at 1 p.m., "Serpent Song" by Morgan Sheehan-Bubla, and 4 p.m., Undergraduate Playwrights Workshop Readings.

-- Saturday at 2 p.m., "Snow Falling Fast" by Sarah Sander.

Each year the festival is attended by guest respondents from the world of professional theater. This year there will be four guests:

-- Len Berkman, the Anne Hesseltine Hoyt Professor of Theatre at Smith College, where he has taught Playwriting and Dramatic Literature since 1969. He has been dramaturg for South Coast Rep's Hispanic Playwrights Project/Festival, as well as for WordBridge and Sundance (1985-96). Since 1990 he has helped develop plays at the Mark Taper Forum/Los Angeles and New York Stage & Film Co.

-- Juliette Carrillo, an artistic associate at South Coast Repertory Theatre in California, where she directs regularly and runs the Hispanic Playwright's Project. She has directed for the Alliance Theatre, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Actor's Theatre of Louisville and for the Mark Taper Forum's New Work Festival, as well workshops in New York theaters including the New York Theatre Workshop, the Public, INTAR and the Women's Project.

-- Wendy C. Goldberg, the artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. For five seasons, she served as the artistic associate at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where she led new play development of new work by more than 50 playwrights.

-- Laura Harrington, whose award-winning plays, musicals, operas and radio plays have been produced regionally, Off-Broadway, in Canada and in Europe. She teaches playwriting at Tufts and M.I.T., and she was the winner of the 1998 and 2005 Massachusetts Cultural Council Playwriting Fellowship. She has also been a two-time winner of the Clauder Playwriting Competition, and has won a Boston "IRNE" Award for Best New Play, a Bunting Institute Fellowship, a Whiting Foundation Grant-in-Aid, the Kesselring Award for Drama, a New England Emmy and a Quebec Cinemateque Award.

The Iowa New Play Festival began in the 1960s as Critics Week and developed into the more-public Iowa Playwrights Festival. The festival's name was changed to the Iowa New Play Festival to stress that the production of new plays was of educational value not just to the playwrights, but also to all students in the department.

Over the years, the festival has produced scripts by numerous young playwrights who have gone on to distinguished careers in theater.

Among them are Rebecca Gilman, who has become one of America's most talked-about playwrights; Emmy Award and Jefferson Award winner Rick Cleveland; Dan Coffey, known to public radio audiences as Dr. Science; Darrah Cloud, whose "O Pioneers" was broadcast by PBS and was toured by the Acting Company; Todd Ristau, whose work has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and the London West End; Charles Smith, playwright-in-residence at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and a faculty member at Ohio University; two-time Obie winner W. David Hancock; Keith Josef Adkins, whose plays have been commissioned by the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Mark Taper Forum and the Actors Theater of Louisville; and Kirsten Greenidge, whose commissions include the South Coast Repertory, the Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Huntington Stage Company.

Many of the plays developed through the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and presented in the festival have gone on to successful professional productions, have been honored with theatrical awards or have been invited to theater festivals.

For example, Peter Ullian's "In the Shadow of the Terminal Tower" was selected by Harold Prince for development as a musical, and as "Eliot Ness in Cleveland" it premiered in Denver. Victoria Stewart's festival plays "Nightwatches," "The Last Scene" and "800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" have had many productions. Naomi Wallace's Iowa Playwrights Festival scripts "The War Boys" and "In the Heart of America" have been given major productions in London. Kate Aspengren presented "Dear Mrs. Martin" in the festival, where it was seen by a representative of the Samuel French publishing house, leading to the script's publication and availability to theaters throughout the country. Levy "Lee" Simon won the American College Theatre Festival Lorraine Hansberry Award for "The Bow Wow Club," which premiered in the festival. And Robert Alexander's "A Preface to the Alien Garden" has had several national productions, including at Trinity Rep.

Some of the productions and readings contain material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether a particular show or reading is appropriate for them should contact the department at 319-335-2700 for additional information.

The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,