Contemporary American Theater Festival 26: Reviews incoming

CDN's initial impressions of this year’s dramatic festivities in the picturesque Eastern Panhandle of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

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Marinoff Theater.
Shepherd University's Marinoff Theater at night. (Photo courtesy of architects Holzman, Moss, Bottino)

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va., July 13, 2016 – The 26th edition of the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) opened with a bang this weekend past in this picturesque, colonial-era college town on the banks of the Potomac River.

Boasting some of the highest production values we’ve yet seen in this increasingly prominent annual showcase for world premiere and nearly-new American plays, this season’s dramas, playing in repertory until the end of this month, offer the highs and lows one expects to see in any performing arts festival that’s dedicated to presenting brand new works to the theater-going public, all in the fine performing arts spaces on the campus of Shepherd University.

We previewed this year’s offerings last week in this space, offering some of our own speculations with regard to what we imagined we might see. Now, having seen all five plays in person, we can offer our (presumably) informed opinions as to how this year’s offerings went down both with this reviewer and with the general public in attendance, as evidenced either via post-performance chats or by the occasional overheard—and telling—comment.


Read also: 26th Contemporary American Theater Festival starts this week



Over the nearly 30 years I’ve been reviewing live symphony, opera and drama performances, I’ve discovered that informed audience members who are really devoted to a given performing art genre possess as much if not more knowledge and critical acumen than scribblers like me who feel compelled to write our impressions down and offer them to the public.

That’s a major reason why I’ll cite audience reactions in a review with some frequency and sometimes in detail. This can either serve as a counterbalance to a critic’s own opinion or, on occasion, convince a reviewer that perhaps he needs to take another look at his initial impressions. So look for these “second opinions,” pro and con, to pop up at any time here.

Rather than write a single, portmanteau review of each play as some publications do, I’ll be providing what I hope will be comprehensive reviews of each play, one at a time. Not all this year’s dramas are Pulitzer Prize material. But each of this year’s offerings demonstrates that its author/playwright has put an extraordinary amount of work into creating something thoughtful, new and, at times, fun.

We’ll roll these five reviews out as fast as we can, given that I’ve wasted the better part of the last two days trying to clear a Trojan Horse attack out of my computer email system. The first one or two reviews will be posted later today.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17