A lot of new faces at this year's New Works Festival, the two-weekend play series focusing on new works by local and regional playwrights, but also a lot of familiar faces, too. Like James McLindon, the Northampton-based scribbler who has taken home top honors in three of the last four years. This year, however, he’s playing a supporting role instead of his more familiar position as the festival’s top playwriting dog, landing a spot on the lineup with “Japanese Schoolgirl Night,” a short that sounds like a show you might find on one of those pay-per-view channels, but, the author assures us, is most definitely not a porno — despite the proximity of Jell-O shots, schoolgirls and a prestigious all-girls college. And the Girard-Faria machine continues to roll, with the Newbury playwrights — and New Works regulars — Steve Faria and Deirdre Girard taking two spots at the two-week festival. Other locals on the playbill include Bruce Menin, who’s back at the Firehouse festival after a five-year absence with a dark comedy about infidelity, murder and forgiveness, and Exit Dance Theater founder Fontaine Dubus, who contributes a short about two techies who sort out a bit of personal business in between cue calls at a dance recital.
But the people walking away with the prizes this year come from beyond the Merrimack River: Worcester’s Ann Marie Shea’s won in the full-length category for “Last Words,” which looks at a hotshot poet, incapacitated by a stroke and confined to a wheelchair, who can hear and think, but cannot respond — and, sad for him, it only goes downhill after a younger couple comes calling. John Minigan of Framingham won for his one-act play, “Entree Gold,” and Jay MacNamee of Rye, N.H., won in the 10-minute category for "Do I Look Like Your Wife?"
Other playwrights include Kathleen Cahill, Kevin Carey, Paul Goodwin, Debra Ann Register and Christopher Lockheardt.
The festival runs Jan. 21-22 and Jan. 28-29 at the Firehouse Center, 1 Market Square. Tickets are $12. A limited number of 4-day festival passes are available for $36. For more information, call 978-462-7336 or check out the Firehouse web.
Here is the complete schedule.
JAN 21 / FULL LENGTH
Last Word by Ann Marie Shea. Synopsis: The poetic romance of the May-December marriage between a literature professor and his gifted student dims in the harsh reality of advancing age and illness. The intrusion of uninvited investigators — an ambitious young scholar and a mysterious, troubled girl — provide a catalyst that threatens to erode what little is left of the older couple's relationship. Cast: Edward Speck, Catherine Colby, Brian Sergent and Kate Braun.
JAN. 22 / SHORTS
Old Friends, New Benefits by Ann Marie Shea. Synopsis: Details threaten to derail an irresistible romance between two 60-somethings who hook up at a high school reunion. Director: Anna Smulowitz. Cast: Pam Battinsach, Mike Pingree.
Key Party by Paul Goodwin. Director: Arlene Barnard. Cast: Theresa Donahue, Anthony Moschetto.
Tea at Dusk by Deirdre Girard. Synopsis: The strident Lydia, fun-loving Mary and poetic Barbara have been the best of friends since college, and today, as age overtakes their bodies and minds, they climb one last mountain together. "Tea at Dusk" follows three independent women as they come to terms with the most important decision of their lives, which will either bind them together forever or end a friendship that has been a sustaining force in an uncertain world. Director: Stephen Faria. Cast: Anne Smith, Mary Shapiro, Susan Hern.
Joy Forever by Kathleen Cahill. Synopsis: A middle-aged couple from suburban Massachusetts takes a 10-day vacation in France, which changes their lives forever. A little play about the discovery of true happiness. Director: Diana Kerry. Cast: Robin Bornstein, Tim Hiltabiddle.
Lucky Day by Kevin Carey. Synopsis: Two young men play a gambling game on a train while having a conversation about their lives and God. Director: Kevin Carey.
A Ballad for Peggy by Stephen Faria. Synopsis: A man plays the trumpet on a lake and listens for the echoes, but he finds that what comes back to him from across the lake are not only the notes he has played, but echoes of the past, present, and future. He meets Peggy, and finds that there are many different kinds of echoes that come to us, those of sound and those of spirit and echoes from our hearts that connect us all. Director: Marc Clopton. Cast: Gloria Papert, Kim Holliday, Steve Faria.
JAN 28 / ONE ACTS
Entrée Gold by John Minigan. Synopsis: Although Peter has been sent by their school’s headmaster to give incapacitated Leverett a ride home from Montreal, he quickly learns that Leverett, dressed in drag, has a different plan in mind. As Peter attempts to get Leverett ready to return to the states, the older man reveals the sexual secret that has caused him to flee their school and kept him from returning on his own. As Peter probes for the truth of Leverett’s transgressions, he discovers that Leverett’s goal has more to do with unearthing Peter’s secrets than in covering up his own. Director: Anne Smith. Cast: Alan Huismann, Andrew White.
Lifting Rocks by Howard Rosenfeld. Synopsis: A summer job at a rock quarry changes a young man's view of work — and of himself. Director: Leslie Pasternak. Cast: Dennis Flynn, Anthony Moschetto.
Parturition by Michael Keamy. Synopsis: Magda and Laura are two women living very different lives but they face a common decision. When their lives intersect, obsession, the past, the cruelty of nature, and the maternal instinct will join forces and change their lives forever. Director: Kate Braun. Cast: Leslie Pasternak, Ashley Risteen.
JAN. 29 / SHORTS
Do I Look Like Your Wife? by Jay MacNamee. Synopsis: What would you do if you found yourself trapped on the roof of a burning skyscraper? That is the dilemma faced by the two characters in this comedic drama. How will this man and this woman — strangers to each other — choose to spend their final moments? What do they learn about themselves ... and about the human race? Director: Kathleen Isbell.
Break With Reality by Debra Ann Register. Synopsis: When a young woman becomes obsessed with fame and, like other reality-star-wannabees, tries desperately to get noticed, she takes extreme measures at a photography competition to ensure her success. Director: Kate Braun. Cast: Robin Bornstein, Julie McChonchie, Terry Blanchard, Maureen Daley, Tracy Bickel, Brad Ritchie.
Last Night by Bruce Menin. Synopsis: A pair of lovers are caught in the act by one of their spouses, leading to serious, long-term complications, infidelity, murder, suicide, and forgiveness. A dark comedy. Director: Tim Diering. Cast: Arthur Knight, Theresa Donahoe, Sandy Farrier.
Japanese Schoolgirl Night by James McLindon. Synopsis: Heartbreak, Jell-O shots and Japanese Schoolgirl Night are all on tap at the local townie bar that lies just outside the gates of the prestigious women’s college. What could possibly go wrong? A brilliant 19-year-old student at the college comes to meet with her adviser while sporting a spectacular head wound and proceeds to tell her adviser how she got injured. The adviser, who has dreamed of lofty Socratic dialogues with her students, must come to grips with the fact that a brilliant kid is still a kid. Director: Sherri Bonder. Cast: Julie McChonchie, Catherine Colby.
Calling Cues by Fontaine Dubus. Synopsis: Two tech people call cues during a dance performance. The whispered directions eventually turn more personal. They successfully perform their task while carrying on a side conversation about their feelings toward each other. Director: Fontaine Dubus. Cast: Sarah Huling, Clark Webb.
Stuck by Christopher Lockheardt. Synopsis: They say that you never really know someone until you're trapped in a revolving door with them. Director: Mark Nichols. Cast: James Manclark, Tracy Bickel.