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CATF 2015: West Virginia festival debuts 5 American dramas

Written By | Jul 13, 2015

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va., July 12, 2014 – In a CDN tradition that goes back to 2002, we’ve just concluded our annual summer weekend visit to Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The object: to review all five new or nearly-new American dramas debuting during the opening weekend of the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), which is staged annually on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

It’s hard to believe, but this is the 25th anniversary season for CATF, founded by Ed Herendeen as something of an early experiment in the early 1990s. With the support of the University, the Shepherdstown community, and ultimately even the state of West Virginia and the NEA, the festival has grown into a major national theater event renowned for premiering or showcasing five new American plays each season, a number of them hot off their final drafts.

Each year since 1992, starting when we were writing for the Washington Times, we’ve made our annual trek out to Shepherdstown to review all five new plays in a single weekend. Our reviews will appear in a weekend series right here in the Entertainment section of CDN.

Each of our upcoming reviews will explore not only the acting and staging of each play. But our reviews will put much of the attention on the work of each playwright since, in the end, this is what CATF is all about—new dramas and dramatists.

Here’s a preview of the five new plays now being performed in repertory at CATF 2015:

“World Builders” by Johnna Adams.

A World Premiere, sponsored by Katha Kissman. Max and Whitney live in a self-imagined, schizophrenic world of bizarre, obsessive and highly imaginative dreams. Involved in a trial of a new drug that promises to bring them back to actual reality, they find themselves on the horns of a peculiar dilemma: which place is better, the new, real world they’re discovering for the first time—or their own custom-built private space?

“We Are Pussy Riot” by Barbara Hammond

Another World Premiere play, commissioned and sponsored by Jenny Ewing. “Pussy Riot” isn’t a term inserted in the title of this new play just to be provocative. It’s actually the name of an all-female Russian punk rock-performance art troupe that kicked off a surprise ‘round-the-world scandal that caught the heavy-handed Russian government and Dictator-for-Life Vladimir Putin off guard. A brief, scandalous outburst by members of the troupe in a Moscow Russian Orthodox church morphed into a YouTube video that went viral across the Internet, provoking the usual response by Russian authorities: a show trial for the young “hooligans” and a quick trip for some of them to the latest version of the Soviet gulag. This play charts the whys and wherefores in a suitably anarchic fashion.

“The Full Catastrophe” by Michael Weller.

This CATF World Premiere is sponsored by Lynn and Dolores Shirley & Mina Goodrich and Lawrence Dean. This comedy charts the misadventures of a renowned but currently jobless professor of linguistics picks up an unusual job, as he agrees to serve as a live-in “marriage counselor” for a troubled couple. His hard-headed, Donald Trump-esque employer has concocted a scripted procedure for salvaging troubled marriages. It’s the professor’s job to go through the procedure with the couple to provide proof-of-concept. Problem is, our professor has never been married himself, and the wife reminds him of the girl that got away.

“Everything You Touch” by Sheila Callaghan.

Sponsored by Patricia Rissler and James Rogers, this dark, time traveling problem comedy this drama follows the hyperactive career of a 1970s fashion designer who cavalierly runs through a series of “muses” as he tries to blend the art of clothing design with the art of actually making a profit. His muses, unfortunately, have a tendency to end up as collateral damage.

“On Clover Road” by Steven Dietz

This World Premiere drama, sponsored by Mina Goodrich and Lawrence Dean & Paul and Lisa Welch, is a contemporary thriller that pits a cold-hearted and hard-headed deprogrammer against a wily cult leader in a desperate attempt to save a young girl from the cult and restore her to her troubled, desperate mother. But is this tense scenario all it seems to be, or is another entirely different agenda afoot?

Tickets, Times, and Places: The following info is derived from CATF press material:

Matinee and evening performances are held Wednesday – Sunday throughout the Festival at a variety of times and venues. Single ticket prices to the 2014 repertory are $61, $55 for seniors (65 and up) and $32 for certain Sunday evening shows. Four-show and five-show subscription discount packages (Rep Passes) are available, ranging from $178 (seniors) and $198 (regular price) to $225 (senior) and $250 (regular), respectively.

Additional ticket savings are available for military personnel and families (as part of the Blue Star Network), students, patrons 30 & under, and West Virginia residents.

Performance tickets can be purchased through the Theater Festival Box Office, which is open off-season Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., by calling 800-999-CATF (2283), or 24-hours a day online by visiting Group discounts available. Inquire via 304-876-3473.

For the official schedule, visit

Complete season information – including playwright bios, promotional images and headshots, schedule, past production photos, videos, and ticketing – is available at

Getting there: It all depends on where you life. Marylanders and DC denizens will likely head out to Shepherdstown via the Beltway, I-270, I-70 plus a few turns on local roads in the general vicinity of Hagerstown before crossing the Potomac. All plays will be staged at venues not far from the bridge crossing.

Virginia residents will likely head out via the Dulles Toll Road/Greenway to the VA-7 Leesburg bypass and then to VA-WV-9 to the Shepherdstown turnoff. But other routes may also work.

The festival’s ever-growing number of out-of-town patrons will find Dulles Airport (IAD) and a rental car the best bet for getting to Shepherdstown, roughly an hour’s drive from the airport.

Check the CATF web site for further details, or program your GPS for the theater location you need. Or visit CATF’s Directions info at

Traffic note: Those driving on Va. Route 7 West, traffic can get a little heavy in the construction zone abutting the Va.-W.Va. Route 9 exit west of Leesburg. Allow extra time, particularly if traveling during evening rush.

Dining and lodging: If you plan on getting the ticket package for the entire Festival, call now and check the CATF general website above for dining and lodging suggestions under the “Visit” tab. NOTE: Shepherdstown has a surprising number of first-rate restaurants, but they tend to get jammed during the Festival. Reservations are HIGHLY suggested.

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 Senior 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