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Potomac Playmakers staging one-act works penned by Marylanders

Potomac Playmakers staging one-act works penned by Marylanders

The characters in three Maryland playwrights’ works will come to life — except one who’s dead — when The Potomac Playmakers produce their second round of one-acts.

Directed by Chas Rittenhouse and co-directed by Laurna Grubb, the plays will be staged at 8 p.m. Friday, July 14, and Saturday, July 15, at The Women’s Club, 31 S. Potomac St. in downtown Hagerstown. Tickets cost $11 if purchased online, $13 at the door.

On tap are “Two Grunts For Yes” by Jessica McHugh; “Phineas” by Jacob Waeyaert; and  “Absolution” by Gerard Marconi. The Playmakers last featured one-acts by Maryland playwrights in September 2016, as an opener to their 90th-anniversary season.

“It’s the best feeling ever to see your characters come alive,” said McHugh, 34, of Frederick, Md. 

In 2010, she wrote the comedy about a pair of conservative southern parents struggling to accept their daughter’s new boyfriend. He is lacking in conversational skills, which might have something to do with the fact he’s a zombie. McHugh penned it in a day after hearing about a one-act play festival put on by Thunderous Productions Inc. in Maryland, but said the concept had been “marinating” for a while.

She tweaked the script after the Thunderous production and tried making it into a trilogy, but it didn’t sell. She wasn’t discouraged.

“I just set stuff aside and come back later,” McHugh said. 

And coming back she is, with the local production featuring a cast including Grubb, Barbara McCormick, Tod Williams and Adam Martens.

A play she wrote called “Fools Call it Fate,” which she said is an “otherworldly” drama, won a competition that led to a full production by The Mobtown Players and The Mobtown Playwrights Group. Even though she has had 20 books published and written short stories, there is something special about plays.  

“I just kind of got really, really into it,” McHugh said of playwriting. “Playwriting grabbed my heart and never let go.” 

While she loves writing dialogue, she enjoyed crafting the minimal words uttered in “Two Grunts for Yes” by the walking-dead boyfriend, who sheds some body parts during the play. 

“I had so much fun with it,” she said, adding that she put a lot more focus on his facial expressions and mannerisms.

Reading books by R.L. Stine and Stephen King while growing up inspired McHugh’s love of horror, which she said she pens “in all of its various shades and forms.” 

“Horror feels like the genre most easily capturing ... the squeamish things about being human,” including fears and desires, she said. 

It’s not her only niche, though.

Coming out this month is a rerelease of “Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven,” a book she wrote years ago about dystopia, vigilantes and corrupt government. In August, the fifth in McHugh’s young-adult series called The Darla Decker Diaries is due out. 

“Darla Decker Breaks the Case” marks the end of the title character’s middle-school years and the beginning of a hiatus from the series for its author. 

“It’s a nice, complete end to the cycle,” McHugh said.

A beginning

“Phineas” marks the inaugural production of Hagerstown resident Waeyaert’s work on a sizable stage. 

“I’m pretty nervous,” said Waeyaert, 23. “This is something I want to do. I want to be a playwright,” and people’s opinions of his works matter, he said. 

The light drama, named for the main character’s goldfish, is about a writer trying to overcome a creative block. He explores his life story and how it has contributed to that block. 

Waeyaert said he hopes the audience can relate to its themes of self-conflict and self-doubt.

The playwright had a hand in casting the unnamed main character, who is being played by Seth Funk, a student at Hagerstown Community College. The cast also includes Gregory Freeman Jr., Mandy McClanathan, Barry Harbaugh and Caitlin McPherson.

During the audition, “he definitely understood how I intended the character to be feeling. He seemed realistic,” Waeyaert said of Funk.

Waeyaert is striving to be believable as an actor, too, portraying Frank in “Absolution.” His character is in his 40s, and “he still doesn’t understand where he fits in the world,” Waeyaert said. “He never really understands how to help himself,” he added, which is similar to the lead role in “Phineas.” 

On a serious note

Marconi tackles different life conflicts — spirituality and materialism — in “Absolution.”

Starring Nic Randolph Sigman and Waeyaert, the drama is about two brothers examining their life choices. The story has a religiously significant connection.

“I had in mind the Cain and Abel story,” he said, referencing the biblical recounting of the former fatally attacking the latter.

“Absolution” explores male siblings who take different paths in life — one becomes a priest and the other an academic lecturer who is trying to disprove the Old Testament. They come together and relive their childhoods, their old conflicts resurface and one threatens the other’s life, Marconi said.

“It ends on a very serious note,” said the playwright, a Baltimore resident who is in his early 70s.

He retired in 2010 after teaching theater, humanities and art history at Frederick Community College for 12 years. He said he draws on his experiences doing productions there to help visualize the plays he finally has time to write. 

Marconi also wrote a novel titled “Gods and Heroes,” a collection of short stories and 10 one-acts compiled in one volume. He recently completed a science-fiction short story about artificial intelligence called “The Ice Cream Man.”

After seeing a staged reading of a play he wrote called “Rapture,” Marconi said he’s looking forward to having “Absolution” produced in Hagerstown.

“It’s a real eye-opener,” he said of seeing his words interpreted by actors and directors. “I was gratified. I was pleased” to see his work on a stage.

If you go ...

WHAT: One-act plays by Maryland playwrights
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, July 14, and Saturday, July 15
WHERE: The Women’s Club, 31 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
COST:  $11 for tickets purchased online; $13 at the door
CONTACT: Go to www.potomacplaymakers.org; email potomacplaymakers@gmail.com; or call 240-382-7269

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