I spent the weekend soaking in the wonderment that is PlayPenn 2014. PlayPenn is Philadelphia’s annual new-play development festival, jam-packed full of action and amazement, and over the ten years of its existence, I’ve evolved from devoted fan to conference playwright to former-conference-playwright-who’s-a-devoted-fan.
This year, a friend of mine earned a slot in the conference: Davey Strattan White. I like his stuff a lot, ever since I saw Simulations at Plays and Players a few years ago, but his PlayPenn reading was all that and a bag of truffles. It’s called Cattle Barn, Hoochie Coo, and deals with a troubled young man who recreates himself by learning how to fit show calves under the domineering visage of his grandfather (a legend in cattle showmanship) and the tutelage of a hard-as-nails young woman who knows her way around a steer. The script kicks ass in eight or nine different ways, but what I really admire is that I’ve never seen a play about showing calves. I just haven’t. You can’t throw a dead weasel without hitting a script about playwriting or Iraq or Katrina or a dozen other things. Show calves, not so much. Also, an actor (Bradley K. Wrenn) played the calf, and his reading was hilariously powerful. My only complaint is that I never learned what a “hoochie coo” is. I could google it, but it feels like cheating and, somehow, inappropriate. One googles the histories of former Soviet premieres; I feel like someone knowledgeable should patiently explain what a “hoochie coo” is, perhaps over a case of beer. That’s just how I feel about it.
I only saw four of the six plays being read, but another standout for me is Wild Blue by Jen Silverman. It was actually two plays with alternating scenes: a realistic play about a strained mother-daughter relationship and the much-younger man who drifts into the mother’s house after his truck breaks down, and a surrealistic play about a prince who marries an unusual peasant girl who happens to catch his eye while he is riding his horse around the countryside. The two storylines juxtapose nicely, with seemingly wildly different plots, until both converge into a beautifully sinister collapse.
PlayPenn celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and I’m pleased as all get-out that these guys are making a run of it. I’ve seen a ton of great stuff grace their stage, and I’m looking forward to frequenting their readings for years to come.