O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Sets 2016 Slate with Stephen Karam, Keith Huff

Stephen Karam Keith Huff Oneill Theater Center
Karam: Rex/Shutterstock; Huff: Courtesy of Keith Huff

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference has lined up an eight-play slate for 2016 that includes a new work by Keith Huff, the “Mad Men” writer whose play “A Steady Rain” starred Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig on Broadway. Stephen Karam, the playwright behind Broadway’s “The Humans,” is on board as the summer’s writer in residence.

One of the few high-profile development programs for new plays in the country, the annual NPC — which has helped launch the careers of playwrights including August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein and John Guare — is one of several new-work theater development initiatives run by the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Located in Waterford, Conn., the O’Neill is close enough to New York to attract notable attention from the city’s theater industry.

As a writer in residence, Karam, likely to be a Tony contender later this spring for “The Humans,” won’t be working on one new project in particular for the conference. The other writers on the slate, however, will bring specific scripts in order to work with directors, dramaturgs and actors in week-long workshop sessions that culminate in public readings.

The eight titles on the NPC’s 2016 docket are:

  • “Running on Fire,” by Aurin Squire, about a college student implicated in a crime spree,
  • Mike Lew’s “Teenage Dick,” a “Richard III” redux set in high school and centering on a student with cerebral palsy who is bent on becoming senior class president.
  • “The Burdens,” Matt Schatz’s dark comedy, told almost entirely in text messages, about two adult siblings and an elaborate plot to rid their mother of the burden of their grandfather.
  • “Small Town Values,” by Kathryn Walat, a love story set in a small town.
  • Sylvia Khoury’s “Against the Hillside,” which juxtaposes the lives of a Pakistani couple with the life of the soldier in New Mexico who pilots one of the drones that patrols the area where the couple lives.
  • “Laura and the Sea,” by Kate Tarker, billed as a “comedy about depression” that revolves around a top travel agent and the colleagues left behind in the wake of her suicide.
  • Tegan McLeod’s “Girls in Cars Underwater,” centering on Dusty, whose new job at a bar and relationships with the women who work there are endangered by the darkness in Dusty’s past.
  • Huff’s “Up the Hill,” about Congressional interns named Jack and Jill and their efforts to maintain their idealism when confronted with the realities of politics.

Meanwhile, the O’Neill’s National Music Theater Conference (which provided early showcases of Tony winning musicals including “In the Heights” and “Avenue Q”) will feature a roster of three projects that includes David H. Bell and Daniel Green’s “The Museum of Broken Relationships,” about the conflicts stirred up by a visiting art exhibit; Zakiyyah Alexander and Imani Uzuri’s “Girl Shakes Loose Her Skin,” about a girl’s journey to womanhood; and Daniel Zaitchik’s “Darling Grenadine,” centering on a successful commercial composer.

The O’Neill Theater Center also oversees summer conferences on puppetry and cabaret. This year the National Playwrights Conference runs July 7-30, with the National Music Theater Conference dated for June 25-July 15.