Summer Preview: Contemporary American Theater Festival

23rd season of theater fest to be held July 5-28, 2013 in nearby W. Va. Photo: CATF

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va., May 30, 2013 – The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) at Shepherd University will mark a major milestone during its Summer 2013 edition. This long-running festival devoted to new or nearly new American theater productions will produce its 100th play this summer. An additional milestone: the opening of its brand new 180-seat Stanley C. and Shirley A. Marinoff Theater, the latest addition to the University’s still-growing fine and performing arts commitment. 

This year’s festival is highlighted by three world premiere dramas—including two commissioned by CATF—as well as two newer dramas, all mounted in rotating repertory. Additional events include free lectures, stage readings, panels,

One of the entryways to Shepherd University’s still growing Center for Contemporary Arts. A new theater in this complex will host CATF plays for the first time this summer.

discussions, a film series, and an art exhibition. Plus, patrons can purchase tickets to attend lunches with artists and breakfast with the Theater Festival’s founding and producing director, Ed Herendeen. 

“The 2013 Season features vivid and ambitious new plays from five original voices for the stage,” stated Herendeen in a release. “As we enter into our 23rd season, I continue to be inspired by contemporary playwrights who are willing to bravely tackle the important and complicated issues facing the world.” 

In its recent press release, excerpted below, CATF describes each of this year’s offerings:

SEE RELATED: CATF fest launches in Shepherdstown, WV

Poster for “A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World.” (CATF)

“A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World” by Liz Duffy Adams. Directed by Kent Nicholson. World Premiere. 

The year is 1702—ten years after the Salem witch trials made famous in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible.’ About to leave the Colonies forever, long-lost Abigail Williams arrives at the frontier tavern of her childhood witch-conspirator—Mercy Lewis—desperate to understand the madness that overtook their youth. But with war threatening New England yet again, Mercy and the local Puritans are in no mood for Abigail’s doubts. And when things are most dangerously tense—the Devil himself shows up. 

Poster for “Modern Terrorism.” (CATF)

SEE RELATED: Bess Wohl’s ‘Barcelona’: CATF’s best of 2012

“Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them” by Jon Kern. Directed by Ed Herendeen

It takes big (and possibly sweaty) b___ to write about people determined to blow up the Empire State Building. This violently funny, provocative black comedy is a satire of paranoid times and explores themes of alienation, revenge, and yearning for purpose and fame. A trio of terrorists is determined to bring retribution to America as they plot their elaborate plans from a New York City apartment. The only problem? They aren’t very good at it. And when their upstairs neighbor—a dude named Jerome—accidentally gets involved, well, a new kind of chaos ensues.

“H2O” by Jane Martin. Directed by Jon Jory. World Premiere, commissioned by the Contemporary American Theater Festival. 

After arriving to the City of Angels, an aimless young man catapults to movie stardom and into Hollywood’s sleazy celebrity culture. Banking on his fame (and name), he is soon selected to appear on Broadway in ‘Hamlet’. Given full casting approval, he embarks to New York City to seek out his Ophelia (Hamlet 2 Ophelia—get it?) and encounters his muse and his match—a young evangelical Christian woman set on getting the role…and saving his life. From the reclusive, madcap world of Jane Martin comes this drama/comedy/love-story about self-destruction, notoriety, and the dark journey to purity and salvation.

Poster for “H2O.” (CATF)

“Heartless” by Sam Shepard. Directed by Ed Herendeen. 

The heart has always been a vital metaphor in the plays of Sam Shepard; and never more so than in this poetic, enigmatic, and humorous exploration of the failure to connect. Opening with a piercing scream—a primal cry that cracks the dirty haze of the Hollywood canyons—Heartless is set in the home Sally shares with her sister, mother, and family nurse. When her new lover arrives, life is thrown out of whack as the scars of the past rise up. This new play is Shepard’s EKG on the human condition. 

Sam Shepard returns to CATF for the fourth time. Eleven of his plays have won Obie Awards and he received the Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child in 1979. 

“Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah,” written and directed by Mark St. Germain.

World Premiere, commissioned by the Contemporary American Theater Festival with a gift from Shepherd University. Additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation.

Poster for Sam Shepherd’s “Heartless.” (CATF)

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway wrestle with the sparks of art and the perils of creativity—and the personal destruction they can reap—in this combative new play set amidst Hollywood’s glittery backdrop. Fueled by friendship and rivalry, two literary heavyweights reunite in 1937 for a final night at the Los Angeles resort villa, the Garden of Allah. From an American master of historical dramatic fiction, the men explore their mysterious bond and the genius that first brought them together (but was fated to tear them apart). 

Particulars: Getting there, Tickets, Reservations, Accommodations, Restaurants, etc.

As has been traditional at CATF, matinee and evening performances are held Wednesday – Sunday throughout the Festival. Single ticket prices to the 2013 package are $57. Four-show and five-show subscription discount packages (Rep Passes) are available, ranging from $100-$235.

Additional ticket savings are available for military personnel and families (as part of the Blue Star Theater Program), students, seniors, patrons 30 years of age and under, and West Virginia residents. All performances take place on the Shepherd University campus. Visit the links below for maps and details. 

Poster for “Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah.” (CATF)

Pay-What-You-Can Previews will be held on July 3 and July 4. 

Performance tickets can be purchased through the Theater Festival Box Office, open Monday to Friday from 11am to 5 p.m., by calling 800-999-CATF (2283). Tickets and info are also available online 24/7 by visiting the CATF Box Office.

Shepherd University is roughly a 2-3 hour drive from the DC metro area, depending on where you live, and, by taking in 2-3 plays a day, you can catch most or all of the festival in two or three days. 

Ample accommodations are available in the Shepherdstown area and just across the Potomac in Maryland. Check the CATF website for suggestions. 

In addition, downtown Shepherdstown offers a variety of arty boutiques and a surprising number of first-rate restaurants. Additional events are also held in conjunction with the ongoing theater festival. 

The festival has grown quite popular in recent years, so we suggest making your reservations for tickets, accommodations, and dining ahead to avoid disappointment. 

We will be attending CATF during its opening weekend, so check back with this column for our review of each play.

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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