Under the artistic direction of Scott Schwartz, Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts has grown to not only include solid productions of popular plays, but daring new works as well. The theater’s ongoing initiative to nurture new plays continues with the 4th Annual New Works Festival, which will showcase four new plays from April 28–April 30. Past festivals have been highly successful, with last year’s reading of The Man in the Ceiling being so well received that it nabbed a spot on the upcoming main stage season.
“It’s sort of amazing to me. I’m very proud,” says Schwartz of the festival, which will have four shows for the first time. “We’ve stayed pretty close to the template we started within the first years, in terms of doing a series of readings. It’s become so popular and people have been getting tickets well in advance, so we’ve added a fourth show this year. We decided that every year we’d like it to be four plays or musicals. For three years in a row one of the projects has been a new musical.”
The festival features four productions that have minimal rehearsal time and staging. “We leave the amount of staging to the directors and writers and I encourage the teams to keep the staging quite simple. This is about the words and text and getting to the heart of the story,” Schwartz says. “I like to give the [creative teams] the opportunity to bring their visions to the stage.”
This year, Schwartz is directing the musical reading, Molly Sweeney: A New Musical. Based on the play by Brian Friel, with a book by Eric Ulloa and music by Caleb Damschroder, Molly Sweeney is about a blind woman whose sight is restored through a scientific procedure. The piece explores the moral questions about the title character’s decision. “From the first time I read it, I thought this would be a good fit for Bay Street,” Schwartz says, noting its medium-sized cast. The original play by Friel—who Schwartz believes to be one of the great playwrights of the “last 100 years”—features only one actor. “This is going to be my first time hearing it out loud! It’s great, we’re trying a one-act format.” Molly Sweeney stars Mamie Parris, who is currently starring as Grizabella in Cats on Broadway.
Quogue-based playwright Roger Rosenblatt is also participating in the festival with Thomas Murphy, an adaptation of his novel of the same name. Thomas Murphy is about an Irishman who lives alone in Manhattan, wondering what to do with his life. His daughter worries about his state of mind, and his world is turned upside down when a blind, beautiful woman walks into his life. The play is presented in partnership with The Flea Theater, an NYC-based company known for developing new works. “It’s been wonderful,” Schwartz says of the partnership. “It’s a beautiful, funny, interesting one-man show and Roger Rosenblatt is a very exciting writer, so it’s been great to partner with them. Obviously we’re very excited about this reading and perhaps we’ll take the partnership further.”
The Man in the Ceiling, last year’s musical reading by Hamptonite Jules Feiffer and Andrew Lippa, that’s being developed for the main stage, is coming along quite nicely, according to Schwartz. “It’s been a thrill. That’s kind of the point of the New Works Festival—to take projects we’re excited about and give those creators a chance to try it out in front of an audience. The reading was very well received. Many people came up to us and said, ‘I hope you’ll produce it next year!’ [The creative team] have done quite a lot of rewrites, and we’ve done some smaller internal readings, but that New Works presentation is what kicked this thing off.”
The 4th Annual New Works Festival is a free event, but reservations are highly encouraged. Each reading will be followed by a talkback afterward. Molly Sweeney: A New Musical written by Eric Ulloa and Caleb Damschroder will take the stage on Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m., followed by Y York’s The Impossibility of Now on Saturday, April 29 at 3 p.m. Roger Rosenblatt’s Thomas Murphy is next up at 8 p.m., and Scooter Pietsch’s The Cocktail Party Effect closes out the festival on Sunday, April 30 at 3 p.m. For more information, visit baystreet.org.