by Brant Russell · July 18, 2014
The World’s Fair Play Festival turns Queens Theatre into a time machine. We’re going back – to 1939 and to 1964 – and we’re looking forward. We’ve commissioned twelve playwrights to write short plays that use the World’s Fairs as inspiration – World’s Fairs that took place in the very park where our theatre is located.
All the plays possess an essence that’s at the core of those World’s Fairs: a sense of hope in the face of great challenges. From the Great Depression and World War II to the looming specter of Vietnam and social revolutions – it’s startling that the experience of the World’s Fairs was optimistic for so many who attended. This could be considered mere commercialism and distraction. But when danger is as present as it was in 1939 and 1964, optimism is salvation. Just as it is today.
Most of the plays explore race and ethnicity, and how those constructs have evolved over time. They deal with family – what it meant, what it means now, what it may mean years from now. Many of the plays are funny. A few are sad – shatteringly sad. The plays take us back, and speak to who we thought we might become. More significantly, they speak to who we are now.
Most theatregoers are familiar with Craig Lucas’ work. He wrote the libretto for LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, and the Broadway success, PRELUDE TO A KISS. His more recent work has included everything from the edgy ODE TO JOY at Rattlestick to the libretto for TWO BOYS at Metropolitan Opera. His contribution to the WFPF is an intensely personal examination of his relationship with his grandmother. Craig was at the 1964 World’s Fair, and recalls talking with his grandmother about the 1915 World’s Fair that she attended in San Francisco. Craig’s play examines how our memories of relationships differ from the relationships themselves, how emotion collapses time and space, and makes a person long gone as present and alive as ever.
Halley Feiffer is a rising star in New York theatre. Her voice, her sense of humor, and her intelligence make her a distinctive talent. She is an actress as well, and recently appeared in the revival of THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE at Second Stage. Her play HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM was produced at Rattlestick. She is the only one of our twelve playwrights that tackled the 1939 World’s Fair and the Great Depression. Her portrait of a relationship in crisis is part WAITING FOR GODOT, part Kaufman & Hart.
Todd Almond, known primarily for his work as a composer and performer, has written a tender play about the future that was promised and the “future” in which we live. Among the artifacts of World’s Fairs past, a brother and sister negotiate the intricacies of modern family, sexuality, and loss.
Kristoffer Diaz, Obie and Lortel winner, Pulitzer nominee, has written a deceptively simple piece about space, and our relationship to it, and how that relationship has evolved.
Wendy MacLeod’s play THE HOUSE OF YES was made into a film that has developed a cult following. Her plays THE WATER CHILDREN, THE SHALLOW END, and WOMEN IN JEP have also enjoyed success. Her play for the Festival featured Al Goldstein, founder of Screw magazine, who ran a carnival booth at the 1964 World’s Fair. We watch with knowledge of what the future has in store for Al, and the knowledge that as he sees it, the future is wide open.
The impetus behind The World’s Fair Play Festival is to serve our current audiences, many of whom attended one or both of the World’s Fairs, while cultivating the next generation of QT patrons. The playwrights that I brought onboard to write the plays, in partnership with Rob Urbinati, QT’s Director of New Play Development, will appeal to younger, newer QT audiences.. Each of the writers we have commissioned have written plays that all audiences can access and appreciate.
Theatre as time machine. It takes us back, forces us to face who we are, and asks us to look at who we might become.