January 12, 2005

KU students' plays selected for regional theater festival.

By Jodie Krafft
Picture by Paul Stephen Lim

When Elizabeth Dean's close friend first told her about his father dying and the resulting awkward relationship with his mother, she listened sympathetically. But it wasn't until last spring that Dean put the story to paper.

Dean, a Kansas University senior majoring in English and creative writing, wrote "The Option," a 10-minute play based on events from her friend's life for Paul Stephen Lim's playwriting class at KU.

"This play meant more to me than any other play I wrote last semester," Dean said. "I felt confident from the get-go."

Dean's play has been selected to compete against five others at the regional level at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in St. Louis. Dianne Yeahquo Reyner, a KU graduate student and English instructor at Haskell Indian Nations Univeraity, is also in the competition for her full-length play, "Weaving the Rain."

Dean said she wrote several plays before "The Option." Her script features a young man and his mother coping with the recent death of the father, and it's their first meaningful conversation. The mother is also trying to have "The Talk" with her son and attempts to connect sex with familiar concepts.

"Because her son's a football player, she uses a lot of football metaphors but gets them all wrong," Dean said.

The play touches on themes of family support, hope and coming together after a crisis.

"In the end, they really reach out to each other and make a connection," she said. "You know these people are going to be better off because of each other."

Dean's script will get a staged reading at the festival. Reyner's script was selected as the only winner in her category at the regional level, which means she is already in the national competition to win a cash award, a paid workshop to the Sundance Institute and publication of her play.

Reyner's production, which is judged separately from the script, will compete at the regional level. Region V is comprised of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

During the first round of the competition, judges came to Lawrence when the cast and crew staged "Weaving the Rain" for the first time in November and selected the play for regional competition.

In St. Louis, the cast and crew will compete in hopes of performing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts at the national festival in Washington, D.C.

"I don't think I've figured out how to feel," Reyner said. "The actors did an amazing job. Everything seemed to come together beautifully."

Before leaving for St. Louis, Haskell's Thunderbird Theatre, in conjunction with KU's English Alternative Theatre, will stage "Weaving the Rain" Saturday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Reyner's play tells the story of an American Indian family brought to Indian Health Services because of the father's worsening condition from cirrhosis. The play deals with such issues as unemployment, poverty, alcoholism and continued racism that affect American Indians as a result of a history of genocide, forced relocations and problems with the government.

Proceeds from the weekend performance will help with travel expenses to the festival. It also gives the community another opportunity to see the play, and the cast and crew a chance for more practice.

Lim, who served as a national judge last year, began entering students in the festival in 1994. Since then, 15 playwrights have gone on to regional and national competitions. A handful of KU and Haskell students also will compete individually this year in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition.

"It's a very big deal if you think about all the playwriting programs that exist in our region," Lim said.

Reyner said she felt there was a good chance the production would move on to the national festival.

"It's gotten a lot of positive feedback," she said. "And if it doesn't happen, we've done pretty well to have gotten this far."

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