The wildly exploding film industry here has made it much more possible for actors (and a few more writers) to make a decent living in Atlanta. Such creative confidence is trickling down: there’s more new work appearing on stage, new theatre companies are springing up, and industry folks are adding more hyphens to their professional credentials.
A recent example of that is actor Mary Lynn Owen, whose first attempt at playwriting landed on the Alliance Theatre stage this season. Her solo piece Knead is based on life lessons from Owen’s colorful Cuban-American family. Another early writing career world premiere was by B.J. Tyrone, winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition with his drama Good Night, Tyler about the aftermath of a police shooting. Other premieres in the Alliance season included the musical Nick’s Flamingo Grill by musician/actor/director/writer Philip DePoy (Atlanta) and New Orleans-bred jazz pianist Tyrone Jackson. The piece was inspired by a “quasi-legal jazz joint” operating in Atlanta’s Castleberry neighborhood in the 1950s. Atlanta-based Pearl Cleage’s new play Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous was about passing the reins on to the next generation.
Though tiny compared to the Alliance, the Essential Theatre still makes a substantial commitment to new work. Starting in 1987, Founding Artistic Director Peter Hardy has produced at least one new play by a Georgia artist each year and with the 20th annual Essential Theatre Play Fest last August, he gave world premieres to two writers, both under thirty. Woke by Avery Sharpe is a “provocative and challenging work” about the difficulties of friendship within divisions of race. Built to Float by Rachel Graf Evans is a “magical-realist variation on the family drama.”
In terms of mid-sized organizations, Horizon Theatre Company, Actors Express, and 7 Stages have remained consistent in presenting plays that take on the most current social, political, and civic issues of the day. At Horizon, co-Founding Artistic Directors Jeff and Lisa Adler presented a premiere of Carla Ching’s Nomad Motel. Featuring one of the most diverse casts this Atlanta season, the play is about “two teens from opposite sides of the globe and opposite economic status who join together in a quest for the American dream.” Horizon also premiered Waffle Palace Christmas by Larry Larsen and Eddie Levi Lee. Actor’s Express presented Steve Yockey’s supernatural-edged Reykjavik which ventured into the shadows of Iceland’s capital city. And, at 7 Stages Theatre, now with Heidi Howard as sole Artistic Director, the crowd-pleaser was a return of Topher Payne’s dark comedy Angry Fags in a world premiere re-write “for the Trump era” about “the destructiveness of toxic masculinity.”
Another kind of masculinity is depicted in The Hero’s Wife by Aline Lathrop. In this joint world premiere at Synchronicity Theatre and directed by Artistic Director Rachel May, an ex-Navy SEAL comes home from Iraq and also comes close to “loving” his mate to death during violent post-coital nightmares. The strong woman who faces him is typical of the female characters Synchronicity promotes as part of its artistic mission. Synchronicity also produced showcases of new pieces by Natasha Patel, Benae Beamon, Rebekah Boroughs, and Lindsay Carpenter as part of their development program “Stripped Bare: Arts Incubator Project.”
Other new plays this season include John Ammerman’s The Tatischeff Café at Theatre Emory, a tribute to the physical comedy of Jacques Tati. At the Windmill Arts Center, L.A. transplant Vanguard Rep presented the world premiere of On the Third Day by Amina S. McIntyre about grief and forgiveness over the death of a son. Finally, the innovative (site-specific) Found Stages, presented their newest work Frankenstein – A Year-Long Series of Immersive Events by company co-writers Neeley Gossett, Annie Harrison Elliott, Addae Moon, and Nichole Palmietto.