It was unexpected in every way. CCM held a Playwriting conference, which culminated in a showcase of short plays by all of the participants. I got the FaceBook event invite the day before. I wasn’t super keen on hearing 14 10-minute plays read aloud for a few reasons. I worried about their quality. I worried that Brant Russell would have had convinced all the playwrights to set all of their work in a futuristic-Shakespearean-outer space-prehistoric time space continuum or something (just kidding).
And to be completely honest, I worried about the parking.
FC Cincinnati, our cities juggernaut of a professional soccer team, had a game just down the sidewalk from CCM and they were hoping for 25,000 screaming, orange-adorned fans. I wasn’t interested in fighting that kind of traffic.
But Kings Island was freezing and I decided that maybe I’d try to make it. I’d at least drive through Clifton to see how bad things were. The play reading started at 6pm; it was 5:58 when I took the Taft Road exit from I-71. There was no traffic. Maybe this was doable.
All of a sudden, a wave of orange flooded the streets as the game let out. I pulled into the Gateway Garage – my usual parking habit – and literally parked in very first spot. I couldn’t believe it. I hoofed it across the street, found my way into the Cohen Family Studio theatre and the very kind house management staff allowed me in the back door so I could enter without disrupting things.
I hate latecomers and so I was full of self-loathing for the first play I caught. I barely remember it. Many of the other 10-minute plays are a blur, too, though Colin Kessler, a recent graduate of CCM, wrote a very funny, touching, and realistic piece about a funeral that I enjoyed.
Finally, all fourteen plays were read (at breakneck pace) and it was time for an intermission. Afterwards, we would hear the first public reading of a new play called THE EARTH IS FLAT by Todd Almond, a CCM grad. THE EARTH IS FLAT was commissioned for the CCM Acting program, the second of its kind (VERY DUMB KIDS had a workshop production this spring and should be fully staged next year).
I considered leaving; it had been a long day. I didn’t know who Todd Almond was but I read in the program that he was the guy behind a show called GIRLFRIEND. My friend, Jon Kovach, is currently performing in GIRLFRIEND in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and he said some very nice things about the show.
So I moved to a seat on the front row to help me stay engaged. I settled in; the actors pulled out their hefty scripts and I thought I may have made a huge mistake. I was hungry. I was tired. I feared I would be bored – and stuck.
As the reading started it was quickly obvious that this would be one of the most emotionally honest, realistic, funny, and tragic plays I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.
Bartley Booz, one of the most interesting actors I’ve ever seen, played “Ethan,” a UC freshman looking for his dorm room. He found it and it was full of “bros” watching a football game, making loud noises, and annoying the already hungry and exhausted newcomer. He meets his roommate, “Derek” (Spencer Lackey) and they have a hilarious conversation in the hallway establishing layers of detail as well as a meaningful – and deep – relationship between these two characters.
And then on Day Two Ethan needs to go home. Tragedy has struck. Derek is drunk. Ethan is lost, confused, and Derek is helpless and guilty. And I’m in a puddle of my own tears. And things were just getting started.
There were hilarious performances by Carter LaCava, Alice Skok, Jabari Carter, and James Egbert. Annie Grove and Owen Alderson brought sincerity to their pivotal roles as a “Flat Earther” and campus minister, both of whom who impact Ethan’s college-identity crisis in powerful ways. Laura McCarthy was equally great as Ethan’s sister and Ryan Garrett had a wonderfully magical turn that provided satisfying closure to this remarkable new work.
I sat quietly when it was over for a minute to collect myself. I said some cursory goodbyes to folks and headed to that above-mentioned parking spot. I was in tears all the way up the steps and while I drove home. I processed out loud to myself; I was definitely emotionally wrecked. There are so many things about Ethan and Derek’s friendship-journey that mirrored my own experiences or the paths of those close to me. The chemistry between Booz and Lackey was heart-wrenching; the writing emotionally palpable.
I am different for having seen this show.
I was already a giant fan of the work and students at CCM. And just like that, I’ve become a huge Todd Almond fan. This is an exceptional piece of writing and I cannot wait to see how it develops. THE EARTH IS FLAT needs work; of course, this was the first time it had been read aloud in public. I think that this could turn into a bonafide masterpiece. And I hope CCM continues to foster this and other work like it.
And I’ll be right there to see it all. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.