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The Baltimore Playwrights Festival

Legend has it that The Baltimore Playwrights Festival was first imagined in 1981 when John Bruce Johnson, “the savior of the Vagabond Theater,” found himself trapped underneath a stack of plays that had been accumulating in his office for what may have been many, many years. The plays were of such outstanding quality that he couldn’t bear to see them wither on the vine, even though he didn’t have the resources to stage them either.

The effect was an avalanche of paper, staples and scotch tape that may have severely inconvenienced John if he hadn’t the good fortune to be within arms reach of a half bag of cashews and a two liter bottle of Shasta, supplies that sustained him for some time. Some people may have said that our hero dug himself out with only a hole punch and a letter opener in such a fashion as to conjure visions of a young MacGyver rising from the rubble with his glorious mullet billowing in the wind. If there isn’t a folk song about this great American, John Bruce Johnson, who saved the nation’s oldest little theater, there should be.

Upon emerging from the debris, John knew that something had to be done. The plays had to be set free in their natural environment where they would be less likely to topple over and possibly hurt someone.

John knew he couldn’t do it alone. This is where Brian West from the Fell’s Point Theater along with Al Tyler and Charles Dickerson from the Corner Theater enter the story. The plan for the first Baltimore Playwrights Festival was born, commencing in 1982.

Since then, the Fell’s Point Theater and the Corner Theater merged and enlisted the participation of several other theaters; they combined resources and now host what is quite possibly the most important theater event of the year.

Before The Baltimore Playwrights Festival, many new plays never had a chance of being produced and many unknown playwrights never had the opportunity to hone their craft. This festival represents a willingness to let go of the familiar and explore the possibilities. This is a place where the creative process begins by giving fledging playwrights a stage. And this is why events like this are vital to the growth of our culture.

The Baltimore Playwrights Festival, now in its 29th year, is far too vast a story to tell within the confines of a single issue of What Weekly. So this week we’re going to tell the tale of a single production. Next week we will tell another. First up, ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,’ written by Ken Greller and directed by Peter Davis.

The Big Picture: ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’

Jessica Ruth Baker takes on multiple roles in Ken Greller’s ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.’ In this particular picture she’s portraying a statue that someone’s carving in secret. How is it that an eighteen year old playwright comes to tackle the complexities of inter-personal relationships wrought with obsession, deceit and the struggle for control?

Cover photo by Philip Laubner.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Photo by Philip Laubner

“Whenever I made a suggestion, he raised the stakes. I thought to myself, this kid is outdoing me at my own game,” said Peter Davis about working with Ken Greller. It was Peter’s idea to use a live actor to portray the statue. He also suggested using a less linear structure for the play. Davis commented that he expected Greller might be adverse to changing the play but, to his surprise, Greller returned with multiple rewrites. Each of them exceeded expectations.

Barry Feinstein, director at the Fell’s Point Corner Theater, initially found the script and workshopped with Geller to get it ready for the festival, according to Davis. “He’s got a knack for finding the sleeper. It was his instinct to hand it off to me and the synergy that resulted was fantastic,” said Davis.

Photo by Philip Laubner.

Photo by Philip Laubner

The last day of production for Ken Greller‘s latest play is actually his first day at college. Greller will soon be attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Praise for Greller such as “national treasure” and “the next Mamet” have been bestowed upon this young artist and leads us to expect great things from him. Seeing this play is an opportunity to witness the earliest glimpse of what promises to be a fascinating career.

Photo by Philip Laubner.

Photo by Philip Laubner

“When you want things a certain way, you don’t see things the way they are. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things is a heightened memory play; a humorous power struggle between two best friends and with their respective lovers. Their individual obsession with desire and control creates unintended consequences that change their relationships forever.”- Synopsis from the Theatrical Mining Company.

Photo by Philip Laubner.

Photo by Philip Laubner

‘Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ is playing through August 29, Thurs-Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 9 pm.

Copeland Theater, Le Clerc Hall College of Notre Dame 4701 N. Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21210.

Photo by Philip Laubner.

Photo by Philip Laubner

Cast: Christoper Krysztofiak, Jessica Leigh, Jessica Ruth Baker, Alexander Scally and Andrew Syropoulos.

Photo by Philip Laubner.

About The Author

Publisher

Justin is a co-founder and publisher of What Weekly, Creative Strategist at What Works Studio, and co-founder of Light City.

  • Peter Davis

    We had a great opening weekend. The actors really deliver fine performances and a great story.

  • Peter Davis
  • Peter Davis

    Second weekend is off to a great start. Brooke and Justin. Comps are on me if you have the time to see the show.

  • Peter Davis

    This Sunday’s performance was one of the best. The actors really own it now. One more weekend!

  • Peter Davis

    Cast and tech crew nailed it tonight…like a tone poem, or a ballet of movement, light and sound.

  • Peter Davis

    The Baltimore Playwrights Festival awarded Nice Things: Best Play and Best Production.

    Thanks again, WW, for your support!