Live Plays Return to the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre Stage
This article was first published in BU Today on October 14, 2021. By Joel Brown.
Usually the students in BU’s MFA playwriting program get a production of their play in their third year. But the five playwrights in the Class of 2021 got a pandemic instead.
But now they’re returning to campus to see their shows hit the stage at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (BPT)—a year later than planned—beginning with Lorena: A Tabloid Epic by Eliana Pipes (GRS’21). The theater is back with live, in-person productions after being shuttered since the pandemic erupted in March last year. Lorena runs from October 14 to 24, 2021.
“It feels great to be back live,” says Kate Snodgrass (GRS’90), BPT artistic director. “I get a little weepy from time to time, just because I’m so happy to see everyone.”
BPT is doing everything according to the University’s COVID protocols. Lorena will be produced in the “black box,” or front theater, with capacity held to 50 percent (50 seats) to allow for social distancing. Audience members must be masked and show proof of vaccination. The actors will be unmasked for performances, but there’s a safe distance between them and the audience, Snodgrass says. The theater even got new ventilation equipment during the pandemic.
“It’s a thrill to be back in person in rehearsal, having the bodies in the room and the energy that provides, which is so positive,” says Snodgrass, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of the practice of playwriting. “I am so looking forward to sharing these plays with an audience. Even if it’s five people, I’m happy.”
Normally BPT alternates between seasons featuring plays by MFA students and work by alumni. This time around, it’s both, because the five MFA playwrights graduated last May and are now alums.
“They didn’t get a production, and that’s pedagogically important for them, to be in there with an audience and go through that whole process,” Snodgrass says. They were able to see their plays in private Zoom workshops with actors and a director, so the plays are “closer to a finished product than in any other season.”
During the pandemic, BPT kept busy producing two virtual installments of the annual Boston Theater Marathon, which together raised more than $75,000 for the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund. That’s “pretty wonderful,” says Snodgrass, who is also artistic director of the marathon, especially given the heightened need by arts organizations during the pandemic.
There were other Zoom programs, including panel discussions with the MFA playwrights, but no virtual productions of their plays, because of Actors Equity rules.
Lorena: A Tabloid Epic is a whizbang satire of the sensational 1990s true-life story known as the Bobbitt case. After years of what she said was rape and other abuse, Lorena Bobbitt cut off the penis of her sleeping husband, John Bobbitt, with a carving knife and threw it in an open field. Later, it was retrieved and surgically reattached. Unsurprisingly, the case became a huge tabloid sensation as well as a staple of late-night comedians.
Playwright Pipes was too young to remember the case, and knew nothing about it until a friend recounted the story in a phone call.
“I thought my friend was pitching an original idea, and it blew me away,” Eliana Pipes (CFA’21) says. “I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s the most incredible story I’ve ever heard—you have got to write that,’ and she had to stop me and say, ‘No, no, this really happened.’ Then I dove into researching to learn more about Lorena myself, and I immediately understood why her story had captured the nation.”