A play with roots in a reallife Kingsport tragedy took home top honors at Barter Theatre’s 11th annual Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, held July 26-Aug. 6 during the Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon.
The favorite of audiences and judges alike was Lori Matthews’ “October, Before I Was Born,” which will be produced at Barter in 2012.
“I have never seen our audience so united in their excitement and their admiration for a new play emerging from the AFPP in the 11 years that we have been holding staged readings as I did for ‘October, Before I Was Born,’ ” said Richard Rose, Barter’s artistic director. “Lori Matthews has truly written a play which has already touched the hearts and minds of our audience.”
It’s 1960, in Kingsport, Tenn., when a family learns that there has been an explosion at Tennessee Eastman Company. Martha, Anne and Houston are stranded at the family’s rural farmhouse with limited access to information about the disaster and whether or not their loved ones have survived the blast. Matthews’ fast-paced emotional roller coaster of a play follows the family’s attempts to cope with the unknown — ultimately igniting a different kind of explosion.
Second place was awarded to “The Wind Farmer” by Dan O’Neil. The play takes place on the windiest farm in the world as a rookie energy developer goes head to head with a farmer in an effort to get the rights to his land. By the next morning, everything — the future of both the field rep and the farmer’s daughter, as well as that of the wind farm and perhaps the world — hangs in the balance of a dead man’s signature.
“The Wind Farmer” will be produced in 2012 as the second play in Barter’s Shaping of America Series.
Third place was awarded to Catherine Bush for “Walking Across Egypt,” her second adaptation of a Clyde Edgerton novel. Bush also adapted Edgerton’s “Where Trouble Sleeps.”
“Walking Across Egypt” tells the story of an aging woman who discovers that there is still plenty for her to do while she’s alive. It’s a heartfelt tale with lots of laughs and surprises as two worlds meet — one of devout faith, delicious cornbread and fine Southern manners and one of car theft, prison breaks and juvenile delinquency — and two people find out just how badly they need each other.
“Walking Across Egypt” has been selected to receive further development as a mini-production for the 2012 AFPP.