Women take over the stage -- for 10 minutes

The Baltimore Sun

A female police officer tries to talk a man out of jumping to his death from a bridge in Portland, Ore. He tells her he feels nothing inside and jumps. Afterward, the officer struggles with her own lack of feeling. Her life partner - she is gay - reminds her she is loved and not alone.

The end - a stage epiphany in 10 minutes.

The play, titled The Edge of Ross Island, was one of five short theatrical works performed at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County during the four-day IN10 Festival that ended yesterday. It featured top entries from the IN10 National Play Competition, a UMBC-sponsored contest for short plays focused on roles for actresses ages 16 to 30.

Susan McCully, a lecturer in UMBC's theater department, conceived of the festival as a way to generate more roles for young actresses. In particular, she said, she hopes the contest will encourage playwrights to develop dramas featuring strong women as the primary protagonists and antagonists.

"There are 10 women for every man in theater departments," McCully said after yesterday's performances. "But there just isn't a lot of work out there."

She said the 10-minute play format originated in the 1980s with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky., and has grown in popularity. "It's great," she said, "because I get to put a variety of new roles for women on the stage."

The story of the Portland police officer, by E.M. Lewis of Santa Monica, Calif., won the top prize of $1,000.

Krisha Lewis-Dixon, 21, a senior majoring in theater at UMBC, played the lead role in the play. She said many roles she's played in the past focused on a female character's relationship to a male character. "A lot of roles for women are archetypes," she said. "The worried mother, the promiscuous young girl, the wife."

The role of the officer, she said, is different in that it centers on the woman's internal struggles. "It's hard to find roles where women are central and taking action," she said.

Karen Landry, 23, who played a part in another of the plays, said the short format required high-intensity acting. "You don't have a back story or any of that," said Landry, also a senior theater major at the school.

Lewis-Dixon agreed: "You have 10 minutes to jump into the action and get to the point."

Plays from three other competition finalists were also staged daily at the festival: Otherwise Engaged by Ruth McKee, a Canadian playwright who lives in New York; The Final Movement by Mark Young of Chicago; and A Girl with a Black Eye by local dramatist Ira Gamerman, a graduate of Towson University's Department of Theatre Arts.

Last summer, Gamerman, 24, received critical praise for Split, a comedy performed at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival about a young man's coming-of-age. In contrast, A Girl with a Black Eye tells of a girl who turns to a female friend for help in coping with teenage angst and her workaholic mother.

The fifth play staged at UMBC, The Two Marys, was having its premiere. It was written by Heather McDonald of Catonsville, a theater professor at George Mason University in Virginia. Another play by McDonald, An Almost Holy Picture, starred Kevin Bacon and was produced on Broadway in 2002 - and was nominated that year for a Pulitzer Prize. She also wrote an opera libretto based on Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair, which had its premier in 2004 at the Houston Grand Opera.

UMBC's McCully commissioned The Two Marys for the festival and she said she hopes to commission two more plays for next year's event. McCully said she plans eventually to compile the best entries and commissioned works from the yearly festivals into an anthology that can be used by other theater schools.

She said more than 600 people attended performances during this year's festival, with tickets priced at $5 and $10.


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