“A poet’s work is to name the unnamable,” says Asma, a Somali playwright, “to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.”
This is the goal as well of this year’s Telluride Playwright’s Festival, in exploring the theme of Americans in Terror in its two featured plays.
Forgiving John Lennon was to be produced next month in London, but suddenly cancelled, with no explanation. That invitation's withdrawal mimics a moment in the play when a liberal arts college suddenly withdraws its offer to host Asma (whose character is based on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of the best-selling Infidel), because her views are too threatening.
The play explores the experience of women in Somalia, where one in four women die in childbirth and antenatal treatment is nonexistent and where 95 percent of girls between the ages of 4 and 11 are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation.
Says TPF Creative Director Jennie Franks, “TPF is quickly becoming a vehicle to explore new ideas, issues and our own humanity through theatre. We aim to germinate cutting-edge plays that can tell us more about ourselves and the world we live in.”
Downs' play is a dark comedy about Joseph and Katie, small-town college professors happily living in the land of tenure – that is, until they invite Asma, a Muslim poet from Somalia, into their home in an effort to create a more “Islam-friendly” campus atmosphere. This timely, shattering play explores a clash of cultures in a world where, as Lennon says, “nothing to kill or die for” might not be so easily imagined.
TPF is producing the play jointly with the University of Wyoming’s Summer Theatre Program, and it premiered in Laramie, Wyo., prior to coming to Telluride. “We’re bringing the actors, the sets, the costumes the whole caboodle down from Wyoming and setting up in the Opera House. The play is receiving a great deal of national attention,” says Franks “so it's exciting that we’ll get to see it here.”
In keeping with TPF tradition, closing night will feature a staged reading – this year's is Americans in Hiding, a new offering from Colorado playwright Tracy Shaffer. The play follows the plight of an American family forced to take an extended vacation abroad after the father’s political actions threaten the lives of his family.
Throughout the week, playwrights, directors and actors will bring multiple plays from the page to the stage at the Sheridan Opera House gallery room (visitors welcome). Staged readings of TPF plays will showcase during lively breakfast readings at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art on Saturday and the Sheridan Opera House Gallery Room on Sunday, both at 10 a.m. TPF takes place July 13-17; Forgiving John Lennon runs July 14-16. Visit PlaywrightsFestival.org for complete festival schedule and to purchase tickets.