The Contemporary American Theatre Festival of West Virginia is now eight years old, but the big news at this year's Fest, July 8-26, will be two new works commissioned by the company: Preston Foerder's puppet play, Interesting Times, and Cherylene Lee's racially-charged drama, Carry the Tiger to The Mountain
A tragi-comedy exploring chaos theory, the wordless Interesting Times takes its title from a traditional Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." ("Interesting" in that context is meant to be the opposite of stable and peaceful.) Foerder's work has been seen internationally and two previous times at the Contemporary Theatre Festival. As part of this festival, he'll also do a family-oriented puppet piece, titled The Toy Box, while members of his company will offer bawdy "Late Nite Puppet" show skits for those 21 and over.
China also figures into Lee's Mountain, which is based on the true story of an Asian man beaten to death in 1982 by racist Detroit auto workers. Carry The Tiger To The Mountain focuses on Vincent Chin's mother, who became a civil rights activist after the murder trial failed to bring her son's killers to justice ($3,000 in fines and three years probation.) Ironically, the murderers mistook Chin for Japanese and beat him because they were angry about imported cars hampering the market for American vehicles.
CATF founder Ed Herendeen directs Tiger, with Jamie Guan choreographing. Starring in the play is veteran Asian actress Beulah Quo, winner of the 1998 Pioneer Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Author Lee, whose other plays include Arthur and Leila and Lost Vegas Acts, teaches playwriting and San Francisco State University. Joyce Carol Oates serves as honorary chair of The Commissioning Project, which hopes to pick two playwrights to showcase every Festival season.
Other plays scheduled for this season's Festival are Richard Dresser's two-couple comedy, Gun-Shy, and Tom Strelich's satire of the corporate mindset gone berserk, BAFO. Both plays were staged Off Broadway this past season.
As a special event connected to the Festival, WV Governor Cecil Underwood will convene a July 19 Town Hall Meeting to discuss the performings arts' response to race issues -- an assembly inspired by Lee's play, Carry The Tiger To The Mountain. Play readings will also be part of the Festival.
For tickets and information on the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, WV call (800) 999-CATF.
-- By David Lefkowitz