Stage

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As the home of numerous nationally recognized playwrights, Chicago has long been considered the birthplace of the Great New American Play. Philadelphia has yet to achieve the accolades heaped on the Windy City, though recently Philly has seen a surge in strong new plays from local dramatists.

This past season saw impressive new works from Pig Iron Theatre Company (Isabella), Douglas Wager (In Conflict) and Larry Loebell (House, Divided), and Philly playwrights Peter Bonilla and Bruce Graham are prominently featured at PlayPenn's fourth annual New Play Development Conference, running through July 27 at the Playground at the Adrienne.

The city's professional new play development organization, PlayPenn offers six playwrights the opportunity to develop their works-in-progress over a two-week period that concludes with public staged readings of plays. For the first time PlayPenn hosts two additional public readings for playwrights seeking an audience's reaction to their new work.

First-time playwright Bonilla is developing his work-in-progress A Human Equation during the conference, while veteran Philly playwright Bruce Graham's Any Given Monday will receive a staged reading on Friday.

Bonilla worked for almost three years as the literary manager at InterAct Theatre Company, an experience that he says served him well in developing Equation. The play (which will have a staged reading July 25) concerns Kenneth Feinberg, the man responsible for overseeing a fund created by Congress to compensate the families of 9/11 victims. As part of his duties Feinberg had the unenviable task of putting a monetary value on each of the lives lost that fateful day.

PlayPenn 2008

Through July 27.

Free.

Playground at the Adrienne,

2030 Sansom St. 215.568.1434.

www.playpenn.org

Bonilla explains that his focus for the story is on the "transformative experience Feinberg had working with the families as well as how the different families attempted to deal with the tragedy."

"I think working as a literary manager taught me the need to approach an idea in an original way that offers a new perspective," he says. "In my role as literary manager I read dozens of plays that covered the same territory and I believe you really need to give a perspective that's uniquely yours."

Unlike novice Bonilla, Graham is a veteran Philly playwright with 12 plays to his credit. Something Intangible, his 10th, will have its world premiere at the Arden Theatre Company next spring.

An admitted "audience whore," Graham says he's unsure how audiences will react to Monday, which he describes as a dark comedy about a man whose ritual of watching Monday Night Football is interrupted by an act of violence.

"At a reading of one of my plays I look for whether the audience is confused or restless, if they seem to care about the characters and of course whether they're laughing." With Monday Graham says he's especially interested in the audience's reaction to a particular character whose language might be charitably described as politically incorrect. "I think some people might find this character refreshing, though others will probably find his views offensive."

Whatever the audience's view, both Bonilla and Graham say they're eager to see what Philadelphia theatergoers think about their new work.

PlayPenn 2008

Through July 27.

Free.

Playground at the Adrienne,

2030 Sansom St. 215.568.1434.

www.playpenn.org


Sparkling Bunch

Eight of the city's most innovative small companies are represented at the Spark Festival, presented for the fourth year by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. In a break from previous Spark productions when the festival's entrants presented a hodgepodge of short plays, the 2008 festival will feature the theme "going against the flow," a change Theatre Alliance director of programs and services Karen DiLossi says is intended to facilitate a more cohesive production. With curator Deborah Block overseeing the company selection, the eight plays on the bill are all decidedly nonconformist in nature. Ranging from one-acts to short five-minute works, highlights include the Flashpoint Theatre Company's presentation of Wendy MacLeod's Division III, about a small college baseball team that falls in love with losing, and the Madhouse Theater Company's staging of John Stanton's short work The Last Straw, in which a down-and-out mime is driven to speak by an insufferably rude patron.

Through July 20.

$10-$25.

Plays and Players Theatre,

1714 Delancey Pl.

215.413.7150.

www.theatrealliance.org

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