It was late in the evening when Tucson playwright Ry Herman and his friends set out on an adventure in downtown Boston. They weren't out to explore the latest hotspots and happenings; they were on their way to a funeral for a cat. And not just any funeral--a Viking funeral.
It all started when Herman received a call from his ex-wife, whom he hadn't spoken to in a year. She called to report that Joppy the cat had passed away. Joppy belonged to other people, but had lived with Herman and his ex-wife. Now they all wanted to have a special funeral, and Herman was invited.
Herman joined his ex-wife and friends at 10 p.m. With Joppy in the backseat, they set out to find a place to hold the funeral. "A Viking funeral is where you put the (deceased) in a container, light it (on fire) and let it sink in the open sea," explains Herman. "They had the idea that lighting a dead cat on fire was illegal, so we drove around looking for underdeveloped property in downtown Boston. We were looking for things that didn't exist with a dead cat in the back. ... It was one very long evening. We got back at 6 a.m."
As Herman would repeat this story to friends in later years, many of them suggested he turn the experience into a play. Herman followed their advice. The comedy Dead Cat is one of the plays to be performed at Old Pueblo Playwrights' 15th Annual New Play Festival. The festival takes place Thursday, Jan. 26 through Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Temple of Music and Art's Cabaret Theater, 330 S. Scott Ave. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $5 per performance or $20 for a festival pass. Call 615-1180 or e-mail TheJunkyardDiva@aol.com for tickets.
"Old Pueblo Playwrights is a development organization that exists for playwrights to refine their plays and make them better ... to get them from the first draft to a performance stage-worthy play," says Herman. "We meet on Monday night to read plays aloud and critique them. It's a group of playwrights helping each other out.
"Each year, we vote on the most stage-worthy plays and put them in a festival. ... To be voted in, the play has to have two Monday-night readings. At the second reading, it has to have the majority of votes of the people there, with a minimum of four yes votes."
This year's plays range from 10 minutes to two hours in length. The lineup is as follows: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26: Odd Birds, written by Eugenia Woods and directed by Adam Adolfo-Yzaguirre, is a drama about a married couple struggling to adapt to the husband's recent gender reassignment. (Contains adult content.) It's followed by Transitional Objects, written by Eugenia Woods and directed by Ry Herman, a drama about a family coming to terms with shifting gender roles and sexual orientation.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27: The Funniest Joke in the World, written by Gavin Kayner and directed by Adam Adolfo-Yzaguirre, is a drama about a man selling the family bar.
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28: The aforementioned Dead Cat, written and directed by Ry Herman, followed by Burden Child of St. Paul, written by Manuel Peters and directed by Meg Tully, a drama about a married man who finds and reads the diary of his ex-girlfriend. (Contains adult content.)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28: Circle Jerk, written by Richard Chaney and directed by Chaney and David Swisher, explores eight desperate Seattleites as they confront sex and death. (Contains adult content.)
2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29: The Carousel Play, written and directed by Jack Frakes, is a comedy looking at the interconnecting lives of six men and women of the Carousel Apartments.
What's unique about the festival is that the plays are performed with script in hand. Playwrights work with actors and directors during rehearsals and can even rewrite pages on the day of the show.
And after each performance, the audience can critique the play. "A facilitator comes out and runs a talk-back session with the audience," explains Herman. "He or she asks general and specific questions about what they liked and what can be improved. Anyone in the audience can weigh in with their opinion. During the first part (of the session), the playwright doesn't speak. It keeps it from being an argument about the play. (After that), the playwright is asked to make a quick comment about what they heard and can ask questions to the audience."
As a member of OPP for the last four years and the current president of the board, Herman has seen plays from the festival go on to premiere on other stages and win awards. His own Man on Dog was performed off-Broadway last spring. And this summer, Herman's Vamp will be performed at Stark Raving Theatre in Portland, Ore.
"It's a very strong slate. These are very, very good plays. They are wildly different from one another. ... I think it's great that we have plays with strong subject matter. I advise people to come to as many as they can," says Herman.
And will audience members find out what happened to Joppy the cat? "Come see the play," says Herman. "That's the ending."