Yesterday I met up with Olivia Emile, 1/3 of the writing team behind AS WE LIE STILL and a good friend, to head down to Nouveau 47 for the penultimate night of the Nouveau Exchanges festival the closes tonight with a performance by FTP Comedy and a big ol’ party (which I will not be at, unfortunately). The reading last night was ORPHAN ECHOES by Bezachin Jifar, an Ethiopian playwright studying at the Actors Studio of Drama in NYC and it was both enjoyable and consternating. The story revolves around the relationship of Amsalu and Jade, a couple whose relationship unfolds over a series of phone conversations that take place from 2001-2012. We enter the action at the climax of the piece, Amsalu is stuck in a cave on top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park at the height of a storm and Jade is stuck outside their home, evicted and living in the car; the storm and disaster of eviction both heralding the markers of the couple’s relationship. The cave, whether the playwright realizes or not, is a perfect allusion to the story of Elijah and the Cave. Elijah goes to a mountain cave to wait for Yaweh and waits through a storm and fire and other forces of nature only to find him in a still small voice. If I were to say one thing to the playwright, it would be along the lines of finding the tropes or mythologies that echo/mirror your story and exploit the hell out of them! This doesn’t happen in the play, but it could.
Jifar, a tall, well spoken man, was present at the reading and it was interesting to see his reactions to hearing the work read aloud by two such gifted actors. Diana Gonzalez and Brandon Potter were both delightful and nuanced in their portrayals of the characters. Director Christopher Eastlund did an admirable job of finding the meaning behind sometimes troubling dialogue and navigating the cognitive leaps that forced into a relationship talk some kind of philosophizing about digital echoes of conversations. The topics in the play cover religion, relationships, faith, love, disasters, technology and recession; herein lies the challenge. As this festival highlights new work, the play in question is clearly in development, there is a lot of room to grow and a lot of editing that needs to take place before the play is ready for a full production. The story is almost exclusively focused on Amsalu, he is the empathetic, artistic young man and his foil is Jade, a poet who peppers her conversation with poems, her own and tidbits memorized from other poets. Jifar’s play, at this point, contains many good moments but lacks the clarity of vision that could turn this play into a successful production. The cell phone conceit is neither here nor there; I enjoy seeing characters interact with each other and over the phone it is difficult to build the kind of chemistry between to character that one wants when relationships are the focus of the play. Or if religion is the focus of the play. Or if disasters are the focus of the play... You get the point.
Nouveau 47 has done a fantastic job of building an environment where young playwrights have a space to see their work take a few steps out of the nest and test the wind. The panel last night was decidedly more focused on the text and on the further development of the playwright than was the panel I was on last week. Hopefully Jifar walked away with some insights into his own play that he can funnel into something worthwhile.
If you can make it down for tonight, there is a reading at 5:00 and a party at 7:00. Go and have a good time celebrating the new works that have had their first readings, hoping they aren’t the last and looking to the future of new works in DFW.