If you like “theater writ large,” the place to be over the Labor Day Weekend is the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which is hosting the 16th annual Page-to-Stage New Play Festival.
More than 60 theaters from the metropolitan area will present open rehearsals, concert readings, and workshops of new plays often still in the development phase.
Montgomery County is well represented, with at least eight of its theaters participating.
The “newest kid on the block” is probably West Medicine Rep, founded in 2016. Rep specializes in comedies, especially new ones. It is presenting “The Consul, the Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart,” written by artistic director John Morogiello on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The play concerns the response of silent film star Charlie Chaplin to the appointment of a “special consul” from the Nazi regime to Hollywood to urge “more Aryan” films. In making “The Great Dictator,” a spoof of Hitler and Nazism, Chaplin might have been threatening United Artists, the studio he co-founded with legendary film stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (known in her prime as “America’s Sweetheart”).
Courage is the theme of the New Play Festival, in keeping with the commemoration of the centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birth. Courage was one ideal attributed to the 35th President (who was also wrote the book “Profiles in Courage”).
"Off Your Rocker: Insanity, Dystopia and Rock & Roll" is the theme of the Highwood Theatre's 2017-2018 season. The theater is performing “The Dog Must Die,” a “dystopian tale about humanity having to move underground,” said Matthew Nicola, artistic director of the downtown Silver Spring venue. The play, by Madison Middleton, will be held in the Family Theatre at the Kennedy Center on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Adventure Theatre MTC for young people is entering its 66th season and has two locations, in Rockville and Glen Echo. For Page-to-Stage it will present “Tinker Bell” by Patrick Flynn on Saturday at 11 a.m., a retelling of the Peter Pan story from the point of view of Peter’s fairy companion. The theater offers a “mix of musicals and non-musicals,” said artistic director Michael Bobbitt. “Since 2009 we adapted 30 new plays.”
Real life, in contrast, inspired Unexpected Stage’s featured play at the Festival. Husband-and-wife team Christopher Goodrich and Rachel Stroud-Goodrich, the theater’s directors, have created “How to talk about a Miscarriage” on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Although “fortunate enough” to have a family now, the Goodriches are aware that the loss of a fetus can have long-term emotional consequences and that society often doesn’t encourage speaking about it.
A relative newcomer is Pallas Theatre Collective, founded in 2011. Its mission is to promote the legacy of the great American musical. “There’s been a big push from about 2000 to get the original musical back on stage,” said artistic director Tracey Elaine Chessum.
Pallas’s Page-to-Stage offering, “Buried in Prosperity,” concerns an African-American proprietor of the only stop in a small town and questions: Do you destroy relationships to find mythical gain, or do you honor them?
Forum Theatre was founded in 2003 as a “socially-minded ensemble that aims to produce challenging plays that engage with and are accessible to the community, while delving into the social, political, and ethical questions of contemporary life,” said Jenna Duncan, associate producer. (Artistic director is Michael Dove.)
At the festival, Forum – which is housed at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre – is presenting play “Cherry Pop Bowling,” by Stephen Spotswood on Saturday at 8 p.m. With loose echoes of the debunked 2016 “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, the play concerns two liberal people running a (primarily fake) right-wing news site — and the repercussions.
Flying V, a resident theater at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, “is geared toward the creation of pop culture, which is often the gateway toward theater,” said artistic director Jason Schlafstein. “Sometimes ideas treated as ‘lowbrow’ may have a lot of resonance.”
Flying V’s offering is “Sheila & Moby,” by Patrick Flynn on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. It explores the nature of imagination and growing-up pains. When a young neighbor of her father thinks her stuffed koala has been kidnapped, Sheila, a successful businesswoman, pulls her own stuffed best friend Moby out of storage for one last adventure to help rescue the stolen friend.
Coming back to the theme of courage, audiences may need some of their own. “That’s if they engage in participatory activities, such as cold readings from the plays in Script Karaoke and singing songs in Kostume Karaoke,” said Lauren Holland, press contact at Kennedy Center.
Page-to-Stage is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. There is no free parking for free events, however. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis; doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance.
To confirm schedules or for other information, visit www.kennedy-center.org or call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324.