SHEPHERDSTOWN – Just days before Beau Willimon took his seat at the Oscars, to vie for a statue for Best Adapted Screenplay, his work here during the 2009 Contemporary American Theater Festival was on center stage.
In announcing the festival’s summer lineup late last week, CATF founder Ed Herendeen shared with an audience at the Shepherdstown Opera House some of his recollections of working with Willimon on “Farragut North,” the CATF play that would become Academy Award nominee, “The Ides of March.”
In Los Angeles on Sunday, Willimon, nominated along with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, lost out to “The Descendants,” another of Clooney’s 2011 films, but it’s clear that theater-goers who turn out each July for CATF remain winners.
Every summer since 1991, Shepherdstown has been fortunate enough to host some of the most cutting-edge theater to be seen anywhere. Years before Ryan Gosling and “Ides” hit the big screen, Willimon was in Shepherdstown, helping to bring the play to life and speaking at intimate behind-the-scenes lectures.
At CATF, the thought-provoking plays themselves are only part of the draw. Thanks to grant money from the West Virginia Humanities Council, free lectures give fans of theater the chance to meet the playwrights and hear first-hand the origins of their work. It’s always fascinating.
In 2009, for instance, those who came out for an Under the Tent lecture after “Farragut North” heard Willimon detail the pivotal day he spent in Shepherdstown with then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ahead of the West Virginia primary.
This summer’s lineup of plays, announced by Herendeen on Feb. 23, looks to be a captivating mix. There are two world premieres (“Barcelona” by Bess Wohl and “Gidion’s Knot” by Johnna Adams); “In a Forest, Dark and Deep,” the new Neil LaBute play about secrets between siblings; Evan M. Wiener’s “Captors,” set in 1960 as secret Israeli agent catch up with Adolf Eichmann, the world’s most-wanted Nazi war criminal; and “The Exceptionals,” written by Dr. Bob Clyman, a practicing clinical psychologist, about a pair of mothers seeking to bring out the best in their gifted children.
Since its start, CATF has brought forth some 90 new plays, including 34 world premieres, among them the latest works from Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Blessing and other high-profile playwrights.
Pay-what-you-can previews start July 4, and the five plays can be seen in a rotating repertory on Shepherd University’s campus from July 6 through July 29. For more on the plays and other offerings or to reserve tickets or get other information, go online to www.catf.org.
— Christine Miller Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.