The show must go on” is an age-old show business adage, and while life is moving back towards normal for theaters, it doesn’t mean it’s there yet. This is why Six Points Theater is innovating with the next show in its 2021-22 season.
Six Points, formerly known as the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, is having its first New-Play Reading Festival from March 2-20, featuring three plays that haven’t been seen by the public before. The three plays will be filmed onstage readings and shown online via pay-per-view.
The festival is being directed by Robert Dorfman, who has acted and directed several shows at Six Points. He is also directing the final show to be presented, Mat Goldstein’s Groupthink.
“Barbara Brooks, our producing artistic director entrusted me with that I feel very honored by it,” Dorfman said. “She entrusted me to find three new unproduced plays that fit in with our mission.”
Dorfman, who is acting in the Guthrie Theatre’s presentation of The Tempest, said he thinks of himself largely as an actor still, but in the case of directing the festival, it’s a different skill set than when he acts or directs a single show.
“As a director, what I like is that I get to have input on creating an interpretation of a play. That includes design, points of view, casting,” he said. “In this case it’s one step beyond that. It’s creating the project from the ground up.”
Each show will air five times in the one week allotted for the play, with showtimes 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday and Sunday, and 8 p.m. Saturday. The first show, The Book of Vashti, is a retelling of the Book of Esther through Queen Vashti’s eyes. It was the final play written by Barbara Field, the co-founder of the Minneapolis Playwright Center, who passed away last year.
“It’s a beautiful play, as irascible and provocative as most of the plays she’s written,” said Dorfman, who was a friend of Field. “It seemed like a good linchpin for the program. It’s a biblical farce, and you would think that’s the only biblical farce that I read, but indeed, no.”
Dorfman said he was looking for some variety among the three shows, with the requirements being that the writers were Jewish and the stories looked through a Jewish lens that would be of interest to not only a Jewish audience but theater goers at large.
“I wanted stories then not only were about our community but that was about things that our community should be interested in, alarmed by,” he said. “I wanted things that reflected the life we’ve been living over these last few years politically [and] socially.”
The second play that will be aired is The Book of Hours by San Francisco writer Jessica Fechtor. Dorfman called her play “a beautiful meditation on loss and grief.”
Fechtor said the play is about different responses to mortality, which is something that she said occupies her in her work.
“We’re all born with this death sentence. And this is universal, yet our human responses to it are highly individualized,” she said. “I wanted to bring several characters together in this play, who based on their own personal histories, and different kinds of losses, traumas, illnesses, injuries, shapes of their psyches, their relationships, kind of oriented each of them differently towards their understanding of death.
“The way I’ve described it in the past is kind of it’s about how we contain and bear witness to the people we love.”
Book of Hours is Fechtor’s first playwriting effort, but she’s the best-selling author of Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home, which she wrote after suffering a ruptured brain aneurism as a 28-year-old Ph.D. student in Hebrew and Yiddish literature.
“My plan was to go back in to finish the degree, and I ended up taking what I thought was a short break to go and write this memoir about my illness and recovery experience,” she said. “And I just kind of discovered that what I really wanted to be doing with my life was writing.”
The play was developed at The Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep in 2019, and was a finalist a the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference in 2021 and the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference in 2020.
“My goal was to learn how to write a play by writing a play,” Fechtor said. “I gave myself some simple parameters: A single setting for characters from different worlds. I wanted to write a play with the beginning, middle and end. It unfolds in chronicle chronological order over a period of 24 hours. What I wrote then looks not much like the play that exists now.”
Goldstein’s Groupthink was a show that the playwright had to be talked into submitting by Dorfman. Goldstein’s mother is Barbara Brooks, and he wanted to avoid the appearance of nepotism.
“I wanted something fresh, millennial, political; something that would answer some questions, if not ask the right questions about what we’ve all been through in the last, two, four or 10 years politically and sociologically,” Dorfman said. “And Mathew Goldstein’s play does that in spades. It’s provocative and modern and fresh and biting.”
Goldstein is now a speechwriter in Washington, D.C., but when he was younger, he worked for a New York City public relations firm.
“I was just kind of exposed to like a lot of things and a lot of weird instances of stuff happening,” he said. Turning it into a play came from an idea that his father gave him. “I had so many wild stories from [the P.R. firm] he was like, ‘you have a lot of material, you should write a play about this.’ During the pandemic, I was just kind of bored. And I started writing, and then I kept writing, and then it all kind of came together.”
In the play, characters work in a New York P.R. firm where they represent “unsavory clients,” where the young staff are faced with doing the right thing versus doing their job.
For the presentation of the shows, Dorfman wanted to keep the set-up as basic as possible.
“However we presented it, at the center of it has to be clarity of the script,” he said. “We’re hiring the best directors and they are hiring the best actors in the Twin Cities. But that said, one can get as creative within that limited scope as possible.”
The ticket price for all three shows is $30; individual show tickets are $12. Call the box office at 651-647-4315 for more information.