Colorado New Play Summit runs Feb. 10-11

DENVER — When the Denver Center Theater Company’s endowment took a hit following the stock market plunge a few years back, one high-profile victim was their new play development program.

Now, seven months into the leadership of new artistic director Kent Thompson, the company is seeking to re-establish its mission of commissioning and developing new work with the inaugural Colorado New Play Summit, running Feb. 10-11.

Co-helming the event will be Bruce K. Sevy, Thompson’s first official appointment last summer. DCTC’s director of new play development when the program was discontinued, Sevy returns in that capacity and adds associate artistic director duties. The message couldn’t be clearer.

“Developing and producing new plays is a central part of Kent’s vision for the DCTC,” Sevy says. “We felt it was important to include the festival in his first year as artistic director of the theater, knowing that it will develop and grow in the coming years.”

Modeled on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers’ Project (designed by Thompson) and South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival, the 2006 summit will include readings of three new plays, a panel of women playwrights and critics, a “playwrights slam” and a world premiere.

“We think the panel will be a great way to increase awareness — the audience’s and our own — of the current state of women playwrights in the American theater and look into the future as well,” Sevy says. “We are committed to discovering, developing and producing women playwrights — not exclusively of course, but more than has been done in the past.”

At least a season out from showcasing the fruits of the company’s new and nearly completely subscribed Women’s Voices Fund, Thompson and Sevy chose Wayne Lemon’s “Jesus Hates Me” — which had its first staged reading at the Southern Writers’ Project — as their first DCTC world preem and summit centerpiece.

Irreverent and seasoned with strong language, “Jesus Hates Me” sets a brash tone for a company that previously had gone out of its way to champion circumspect outsiders — “The Laramie Project” (co-produced with the Tectonic Theater Project), “Waiting to Be Invited” and “Black Elk Speaks” — and classics –“Tantalus” (co-produced with the Royal Shakespeare Company).

“I try to subvert stereotyping at every turn,” says playwright Lemon during a break in previews. “Yes, they do live in an Airstream trailer, but no, they’re not the pejorative white trash. They’re intelligent, thoughtful people. … It’s a very adult play. It’s got a lot of adult content. … There are a couple of lines that could send the squeamish running up the aisle.”

Though skewed toward Gen-Xers in both theme — a twentysomething ex-high school football star trying to break away from home — and language, Lemon says older audiences have nevertheless been enthusiastic, even if they feel uneasy with some of what they hear.

“We had an audience last night, I swear the median age was 79, and they had to strain to hear. They didn’t laugh, and not one person left. Afterwards, we were approached by numerous senior citizens saying how great they thought it was. So, it’s interesting. You can’t tell.”

Given the summit’s three readings, DCTC’s future new work promises to be both socially and imaginatively challenging. The selections include Jason Grote’s “1001,” a Scheherazade meets post 9/11 Baghdad; Michele Lowe’s “Good on Paper,” which looks beneath the facade of the model American family in the era of the corporate state; and Richard Dresser’s “Augusta,” which explores the glass ceiling in the 21st-century American workplace.

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