Playwright Marisa Smith Returns to Northern Stage’s ‘New Works Now’ Festival

  • Marisa Smith, of Hanover, N.H., at a rehearsal with cast and director of her play "Mad Love" at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 22, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2017 12:05:22 AM

This weekend, Northern Stage presents its fourth annual New Works Now, a suite of staged readings of new plays at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction.

The festival includes works by three playwrights: Portugal by Seattle-based Elizabeth Heffron, Piece Of by Tasha Gordon-Solmon, based in New York City, and She Exits, Laughing by Marisa Smith, of Lyme.

The three plays were selected from more than 150 entries; this is the first time that the staged readings will consist solely of plays by women. All readings are free of charge and open to the public, but reservations are required.

“We selected these three plays partly because of their breadth of theatricality; they each had something different to offer,” said Alek Deva, assistant director of development and literary manager at Northern Stage.

They were chosen both on their merits and because the company would like to establish a relationship with the playwrights, Deva said.

In addition, as part of Northern Stage’s second annual Thirsty Theater, there will be two “pop-up” readings of two 10-minute plays on Saturday: Runway Lounge by Elisabeth Gordon at the Tip Top Café at 6 p.m., and Polar Bear Swim, also by Marisa Smith, at the Filling Station at 10 p.m. (No reservations are required to see the short plays, and they are free of charge, but dinner reservations are recommended for the Tip Top because of limited seating.)

The drama Portugal looks at the lives of a couple exposed to radiation at the now-decommissioned Hanford nuclear facility in Washington state, which was originally part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, but is now the site of one of the country’s largest environmental cleanup efforts.

Heffron’s most recent play Bo-Nita received a New Play Award by the Theatre Communications Group, and Portugal earned a staged reading at the Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Neb., last year. Portugal will be read on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Piece Of, by Tasha Gordon-Solmon, whose plays have been seen at the Actors Theater of Louisville, among other venues, is slightly more unusual, said Deva. It is told from the perspective of a 5-year-old who may have artistic genius, and how the child’s parents respond to that promise. Piece Of will be read on Sunday at 2 p.m.

She Exits, Laughing by Marisa Smith is the second of Smith’s comedies to get a reading at the New Works Now festival. Last year Northern Stage produced Mad Love, which had gone through the workshop process as part of the first year of New Works Now in 2014.

She Exits, Laughing, Smith said in a phone interview, looks at what happens when a middle-aged woman, who has left her marriage, moves in with her elderly and ailing mother, who also happens to have a boyfriend.

A power struggle ensues between the daughter and her mother’s lover over how best to care for the mother. Smith, who drew loosely on her own relationship with her mother, calls She Exits, Laughing an anthem play.

“No matter how old you are, how decrepit you’re getting, you have the right to determine your own life,” Smith said. “It’s a comedy but it has some serious moments. I hope people are entertained but also think about the relationship with their elders.”

Smith, who with husband Eric Kraus, runs Smith and Kraus, Inc., a leading publisher of plays, began writing plays in her 40s. “It’s definitely not something I expected, nor did I expect it to take over my life,” she said.

In addition to Mad Love at Northern Stage, her play Saving Kitty, which starred the well-known actress Jennifer Coolidge, perhaps best known from the Christopher Guest mockumentary Best in Show, had a successful, extended run in 2015 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

Smith has other projects in the works. For her, and for any playwright, the process of bringing earlier versions of a play before an audience is absolutely critical, as is the collaboration with the actors and director. “The audience reaction is going to inform me tremendously,” she said.

There is no such thing as unalloyed success, in Smith’s view. “It can never be perfect. There are degrees of not failing so terribly. I feel I have a long way to go still.” Comedy, in particular, benefits from repeated readings, she said.

As a staging ground for new theater, New Works Now has had success in recent years.

The play Orwell in America by Joe Sutton, a lecturer in drama at Dartmouth College, went through the workshop process as part of New Works Now. Eventually it had a run at Northern Stage in the spring of 2015 and this fall had a two-week run at 59E59 in New York, which has become one of the country’s leading venues for plays imported from regional companies. And one of the plays from last year’s festival, Trick or Treat by Jack Neary, will have a production this spring at Northern Stage.

There is a waiting list for tickets to She Exits, Laughing. There are still tickets available for Portugal and Piece Of. Call 802-296-7000 or send a message to boxoffice@northernstage.org.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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