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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Local plays about video game culture and Eugene O’Neill win national recognition

Posted by on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 11:02 AM

click to enlarge Adrienne Earle Pender - COURTESY OF ADRIENNE EARLE PENDER
  • courtesy of Adrienne Earle Pender
  • Adrienne Earle Pender
Local playwrights Adrienne Earle Pender and Allan Maule have travel plans to make. This fall, Pender will be the third recipient of a new artist residency at the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, and Maule’s EverScape will be produced in August at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Raleigh's Theatre in the Park has produced two of Pender's plays: The Rocker and Somewhere in Between. Her work has also been presented at the National Black Theatre Festival, Edward Albee’s Last Frontier Theatre Conference and the Drama Book Shop in New York.

But it was luck, she says, that led her to the fellowship at Tao House, O’Neill’s former California residence. She didn’t know if she needed permission to use O’Neill as a character in a script, and she wrote the Foundation to ask. “They said, ‘You don’t need permission—but by the way, did you know we have this program?’” she recalls.

Pender will spend three weeks researching O’Neill’s turbulent relationship with actor Charles Sidney Gilpin—Pender’s relative, who originated the title role in O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones—in the Tao House archives. 

“The panels were very enthused about her project. No one has looked at that before in the way Adrienne wants to,” says program director Florence McAuley. Given the history of local interest in Pender’s work, look for a regional premiere after its completion.

click to enlarge Allan Maule - COURTESY OF ALLAN MAULE
  • courtesy of Allan Maule
  • Allan Maule
It’s one of the common criticisms of video gaming culture: “The majority are basically adolescent male power fantasies,” says Allan Maule, a Raleigh-based writer who’s long been a figure on regional stages. (He’ll appear in Bare Theatre’s Macbeth starting July 24.)

“The protagonist is usually a young man with abilities no one else has, who wreaks havoc or saves people and becomes the central character of his own life. But what happens when everyone has their own power fantasy—and they’re all shoved into an online world together? How do they interact?”

To explore the question, Maule wrote EverScape, which runs Aug. 18–29 at The Celebration of Whimsy, an East Village theater, as a part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Maule says local theater companies have already expressed interest, so expect a local production later.

In Maule’s drama, four gamers who have formed a team in a multiplayer role-playing game, similar to World of Warcraft, find that the boundaries between their real and online lives begin to blur when they enter a contest to become the game’s designers.

Maule says that people have been escaping into entertainment for as long as there’s been entertainment. “One of my characters says, ‘Our grandparents went to the movies, our parents slept in front of the TV.’”

But escapism can become more insidious when its simulations of empowerment, mastery and gratification are mistaken for their real-world counterparts. “[Video games] are designed to constantly give you these little rewards,” Maule says. “When they bring a level of science to escapism, you get lost in them even more.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, this post misstated the nature of Pender's work with Theatre in the Park. Her works were produced there, not directed by her.

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