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University of Iowa News Release


May 2, 2011

Silverman revisits another classic for 2011 Iowa New Play Festival

This would seem to be the spring for Iowa Playwrights Workshop student Jen Silverman to revisit the classics. First she collaborated with faculty director Carol MacVey to update Sophocles in "Antigone 2.0" for University Theatres Mainstage. And now she plays with the epic of Gilgamesh for the Iowa New Play Festival.

Performances of her "And Humbaba Came from His Strong House of Cedar" will be presented at 5:30 and 9 p.m. Monday, May 2, in the Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

With his trusty sidekick Enkidu, the mythic hero Gilgamesh sets out for the cedar forest to destroy the monster Humbaba. As the three catapult through time, history repeats itself and the three warriors are forced to wrestle with their dark desires for violence, power and destruction.

"I don't really respond to plays that tell me how the world is, or tell me what to think about the world," she explains. "I like plays that ask big scary questions and explore those questions and leave me with new questions, and I hope that's what 'Humbara' does.

"It asks us about our tendency toward violence as a culture and as a species -- our history of violence and the way that different kinds of violence keep reasserting themselves for us. And I think it asks us if that is inevitable, or what options we have, first as individuals and then as a culture."

For Silverman the Bablylonian epic of Gilgamesh -- one of the oldest written myths, recorded in the Sumerian language 4,000 years ago -- was a natural vehicle for raising and dramatizing these questions.

"I love the epic of Gilgamesh," she says. "It's one of my favorite pieces of writing right now, and it's so intensely theatrical and epic and poetic that it crosses the boundaries of all the genres that interest me most.

"Last spring I had another play in the New Play Festival that was called 'Gilgamesh's Game,' but it actually wasn't about the epic at all. It had to do with questions of mortality, and a man testing the limits of his mortality with this brutal and thrilling game that he'd invented. During the game, he takes on the name or 'handle' of Gilgamesh.

"I went on to develop that play at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference last summer, and while I was out there, I re-read the epic.

"The part that made the biggest impression on me was the part where the monster Humbaba asks the hero Gilgamesh not to kill him, and Gilgamesh hesitates, and then his friend and side-kick Enkidu tells him to kill‚ and he does‚ and the whole world unravels from that point. That moment of choice and of violence became the basis for this whole new, darkly funny play."

Tickets for Silverman's play -- $5 for the general public and free for UI student with a valid UI ID -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances. Tickets will also be on sale from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Theatre Building box office. More information can be found at

The Iowa Playwrights Workshop -- the UI MFA Program in Playwriting -- is an intensive three-year program dedicated to educating playwrights for the professional theatre. The objective of the program is to train talented playwrights and collaborative theatre artists who will lead the American theater in the creation of new works and the training of future generations of playwrights.

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 only to the playwrights but 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. Also, 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.

This year's festival is dedicated to Cosmo Catalano, who died in January. He joined the UI Department of Theatre Arts in 1966 and was professor in charge of acting and directing, department chair and managing director of Iowa Summer Rep. Catalano directed more than 100 productions for the department. His numerous contributions to the community are detailed here:

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

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, University News Services, 319-430-1013,