HOUSTON -- Continuing his commitment to nurturing young playwrights, Rob Bundy, artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre, is devoting this week to an Equity workshop of J. B. Murphy's new play, Caroleena. On Saturday, March 14, a reading will be presented at Stages by professional actors under the direction of Bundy. Bundy and cast are using the week to help Murphy get the drama into shape.
"Hosting a workshop of a new play like Caroleena is, to my mind, one of the most important contributions Stages Repertory Theatre can make," said Bundy, who's in his second season of leading what he likes to call Houston's most vital equivalent to Off-Broadway. "In order to have a living theater, one that is alive in the truest sense, it is important to develop new plays and to encourage new playwrighting talent."
Last season, Bundy workshopped Ascendancy, by Gary Bonasorte (who's also written The Aunts and Killing Real Estate Women). Based on Bonasorte's experiences with the Community Research Initiative on AIDS, which he co-founded in New York in 1990, Ascendancy chronicles how a group of strangers bond while undergoing clinical drug trials in a New York AIDS clinic. The public reading of the serious comedy went so well that Bundy gave it a full production earlier this year.
First thing's first with Caroleena: the workshop week. Caroleena is based on the South Carolina folk tale of Mother Margot, who sold her soul to the devil to be white. In the play, a beautiful mulatto woman in 19th-century Charleston bargains with a sly, cross-dressing spirit to spare her equally beautiful daughter, Caroleena, a life of racial oppression. As mother succumbs to self-loathing, Caroleena's young beau sets out to find his missing lover, winding up on the plantation estate of the richest man in the South. The climax culminates in self-sacrifice and redemption.
"Caroleena raises serious racial questions, in a Faustian sort of way," observed Bundy, who workshopped an earlier play of Murphy's a few years ago in New York at the Dramatists Guild. Murphy is a member of the Dramatists Guild and on the board of directors of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center. He also produces not-for-profit musicals and cabarets for the annual Old Lyme Midsummer Festival Concert in Connecticut. Caroleena will be given a public reading on March 14 at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston. For tickets, which are free, call (713) 52-STAGE
-- By Peter Szatmary