Two plays in an inaugural playwriting contest are receiving full-stage productions at a local theater, and both deal with contemporary issues.
The finalists in the the Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle New Play Initiative are directed by the namesakes’ son, Christopher Hart, and presented at the Grove Theater Center, 1111 W. Olive Ave., Burbank.
“The word went out [about the contest] at the end of last year,” Hart said. “It was just word of mouth and a couple of places on the Internet.”
Organizers had expected a couple hundred scripts would be submitted, but wound up receiving about 1,300 submissions.
One of the reasons was likely the prize — two finalist plays getting full productions in Los Angeles and then the final winner received a full Off-Broadway production at 59E59 Theaters in March in New York City, where Hart calls home.
In addition, the top four plays got readings at 59E59 Theaters in New York City.
All four top plays were written by women. “It was an interesting coincidence,” Hart said.
There were criteria for the contest — no musicals were allowed, and the plays submitted could have only about half a dozen characters.
Hart grew up in New York City with his famous parents and came out to Los Angeles as producer for a TV series called “You Can’t Take it With you,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by his father.
He stayed in L.A. for several years working on TV productions, and he ran a theater company called the Malibu Stage Co. until he and his family moved back to New York City to be closer to his mother during her final years.
“Both these plays are [about] very contemporary subjects,” Hart said.
“Confederates” is about politics and journalism as a reporter grapples with a controversial photo of a female friend and the dilemma he faces about whether to cover it because her father, a senator, is running for president.
The other finalist, “Exit Wounds,” is about a school shooting, but it’s not told from the viewpoint of the victims’ families. It centers on the lives of the family of the shooter 25 years after the incident and how the tragic incident has impacted them.
“They have to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, he said. “We see what’s become of them and how they’re still struggling with it.”
In “Confederates,” Melissa R. Randel, co-chair of theater arts at Glendale Community College, plays a reporter who is more seasoned than her fellow journalist who is embroiled in the controversy.
She’s performed in productions throughout the L.A. area in smaller theaters as well as in pieces with the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
At GCC, she has directed several shows including Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” and an original work called “We Are Stardust.”
While she’s done her share of acting and directing, dancing is her first love. In fact, she’s danced — and sang — on Broadway, originating the character Judy Turner in the inaugural Broadway production of “A Chorus Line.”
‘”I love her fearlessness,” she said of her character in “Confederates.” “I love her completely unapologetic pursuit of the truth, as she sees it … I see her as heroic for the truth. She really wants the truth to come out, and she loves this candidate when she first hears him speak at the debate and then she gets this information and it changes her opinion of him,” she said, adding that the character still continues to pursue more information about the controversial issue
“It’s a moral dilemma of whether you protect the person or tell the story,” she said.
Playwright Suzanne Bradbeer, who has had her plays produced in New York City and across the country for several years, said she got the idea for “Confederates” when she was back in her home town of Charlottesville, Va., and she saw a statue of an unnamed young confederate soldier and, in front of it, was a stone carving of a confederate flag.
“I was thinking about that, too, because even though I grew up in Virginia, I mean, Charlottesville is a university town, it wasn’t that often that I saw a confederate flag. I saw that and I thought, wow, I’ve never even noticed this statue,” she said
Then, on the other side of the statue was the phrase, as Bradbeer paraphrased, “Fought in the battle for states’ rights.” A short time later, she saw a statue of Robert E. Lee and then a statue of Stonewall Jackson.
That experience led her to reflect on the community where she was raised.
And that led to the first scene she wrote in “Confederates,” which is the fourth scene in the final play, where the senator’s daughter shows her longtime friend, the reporter, a compromising photo of her that involves a Confederate flag, thus fueling the dilemma for the reporter.
While both plays tackle serious subjects, Hart said there is still humor in both of them, referencing plays by Anton Chekhov that are very serious. “But he called them comedies,” Hart said with a chuckle.
For more information about “Confederates” and “Exit Wounds,” which are being presented in rotation through Dec. 16, visit hartnpi.org.