|Playwright Leslie Pasternack with Sylvia, um, Simon.|
The big win? That would be for "Surface," Pasternack's new play, which took top honors in the one-act category of this year's New Works Festival, a four-day play series designed to shine a light on local talent. The win is also the reason she's is relatively calm. Last year, she directed and performed in the big show. "It pretty much took over my life for a couple of months," says Pasternack, who is probably best known locally for "Clean Room," her evolving masked drama about the cheerful, disoriented Brighina and the conscientious Stupino and their intersecting lives on a locked ward — and her Actors Studio workshops on the form. As a playwright, she gets to sit back and let other people do the heavy lifting of staging the work. The play will be directed by Suzanne Hitchcock Bryan, who ran the ambitious Persephone Theater back in the day and returned to town last year to stage "Forbidden Newburyport," a wildly popular satirical musical that takes colorful local personalities and hot-button political issues and serves them up Broadway style, as splashy production numbers. There hasn't been much in the way of rehearsals, a place where a playwright can quickly wear out her welcome, since Hal Fickett, one of the two actors attached to the show, was stuck in New York with his own company, Green Theatre Collective, a Brooklyn-based troupe that staged a no-frills production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" at Maudslay State Park last year. Lynne Lori Sylvan also stars in the production. Pasternack's goal has been to "kick back, keep my lip buttoned up and see what they do with it."
The story takes place in an increasingly rare corner of the universe: in a non-virtual world, a place populated by real people in real time — specifically on a hiking trail in the White Mountains, where a 30-something woman meets a 20-something guy, and, while they're miles away from anything, they discover they aren’t alone. It's about that uncomfortable point in life, when, whether we're willing to admit it or not, whether we ever realized it not, we're no longer hot or hip. It's the point when pop culture references either become a slap in the face, psychologically — like when some young(er) hottie looks at you blankly and says, "Oh, yeah, my dad has that album in his record collection," or that you find yourself nodding, faking it when you have no idea who the person is talking about. It's not autobiographical, but, sigh, kind of connects, psychologically, to a time when Pasternack went from being one of the "slightly older" students at the University of Texas, where she got her doctorate in theater history, to "the old chick in the room" as a graduate student — and, almost as bad, someone who didn't know that Buffy was no longer au courant, like the ironic use of French idioms in everyday conversation. "I needed a cold compress when I got that news," she says, referring specifically to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "I thought and chewed on that, and ... got a little confused. In my head, I was a swinging 27-year-old. Then suddenly, I realized that I'm not."
The play will be paired with Marc Clopton's "Man Alien Man" and Donald Tongue's "Scene Changes" on Jan. 21.
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Leslie Pasternack's "Surface" will be staged at 8 p.m. Jan. 20 during Day Two of this year's New Works Festival. The show will be directed by Suzanne Bryan and stars Lynne Lori Sylvan and Hal Fickett. It will be paired with "Man Alien Man," written by Marc Clopton, directed by Stephen Faria and starring Charles Bradley and William Woodiel; and "Scene Changes," written by Donald Tongue, directed by Anne Easter Smith and starring Sally Nutt and Kyle Robertson. Here is the complete schedule:
Friday, Jan. 20
"No Longer Our Town" by Jay MacNamee
"This is a comedy that begins with the Daniel Webster Society for the Preservation of Oratory hosting that evening’s guest speaker, Professor Forsythe, who is staging a few scenes from his new play, a work-in-progress that puts an updated spin on Thorton Wilder’s "Our Town." Director: Tim Diering. Actors: Victor Atkins, Terry Blanchard, Fedja Celebi, Susan Hern, Sandy Farrier, Tim Hiltabiddle, Spencer Redgate, Jennifer Wilson, and William Woodiel, Abby Seabrook, Mark Nichols, Kerry Zagarella and Kate Bossi. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21
1. "Surface" By Leslie Pasternack
In a clearing off a hiking trail, two strangers accidentally meet – and discover they aren’t alone. Director: Suzanne Bryan. Actors: Hal Fickett and Lynne Lori Sylvan. Top Honor, One-Act.
2. "Man Alien Man" by By Marc Clopton
A burgeoning friendship draws two men into encountering their own fears and prejudices. Director: Stephen Faria. Actors: Charles Bradley and William Woodiel.
3. "Scene Changes" By Donald Tongue
A one-act play in three scenes. Like Scrooge’s spirit of Christmas past, a casting catastrophe causes a Broadway diva to re-examine her life. Director: Anne Easter Smith. Actors: Sally Nutt and Kyle Robertson.
Friday, Jan. 27
"A Book of Snow" by Joshua Faigen
George and Vera, a middle-aged couple, weather nine years trying to discover what it is, exactly, that they are looking for. Director: Kate Braun. Actors: Carol Davenport and Alan Huisman. Top honor, full-length.
Saturday, Jan. 28
1. "Sea Level" by Gregory Hischak. Director: Cynthia Arsenault.
2. "Last Call "by James McLindon. Director: Jack Rushton.
3. "That Thing You Do With Your Tongue" by R.D. Murphy. Director: Jason Breitkopf.
4. "Estrangers in the Night" by Jay MacName. Director: John Budzyna. Top honor, shorts.
5. "Blind Date" by Jack Santos and Bruce Menin. Director: Arlene Barnard.
6. "Bedtime Story" by Christopher Lockheardt. Director: Kimm Wilkinson.
7." Seeking Alpha" by Jesse Kalfe. Director: Fontaine Dubus.
The four-night festival will be produced over two weekends, Jan. 20 -21, and Jan. 27-28, at 8 p.m. at the Firehouse. Tickets are$13 for adults per evening. A limited number of four-day festival passes are now available for $38. For tickets call 978-462-7336 or log onto firehouse.org.line at firehouse.org.