Theater Review - Wrestling Naomi

Wallace Festival brought Atlanta theaters together

This fall's Naomi Wallace Festival of plays saw its greatest success in what it implies about Atlanta's theater community. It wasn't a citywide sensation, as the lyrical, leftist playwright received no keys to the city or had any specialty drinks named after her. And the series of plays and readings weren't all necessarily financial hits, although Synchronicity Performance Group extended the run of its production of One Flea Spare, perhaps the festival's most entertaining show (especially considering its depiction of the class struggle during London's Great Plague).

Never considered a "commercial" playwright, Wallace has infrequently seen her work produced in America, despite high critical esteem and a provocative body of work. Her plays can be marked by angry jokes, angrier politics and unabashed sexuality, setting up some risk for the dozen or so Atlanta theaters that participated in the festival.

Spearheaded by Theater Emory's Vinnie Murphy long before the events of Sept. 11, the festival saw the staging of works that would prove eerily relevant, such as PushPush Theater's In the Heart of America and Actor's Express' "The Retreating World," which dealt with issues such as the Persian Gulf War and the Iraqi embargo. Other plays proved intriguing without such hot-button issues, like Theater Emory's haunting The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek or Georgia Shakespeare Festival's reading of Wallace's rich new work, The Inland Sea.

But the most heartening aspect of the Naomi Wallace Festival was the way it proved that Atlanta playhouses aren't just willing but are truly eager to come together and collaborate for a worthy cause. Many of the participating theater groups are recently formed groups with young members, quite possibly eager to claim Wallace as an important voice of their generation (as opposed to long-established playwrights like David Mamet and Sam Shepard). Rallying around Naomi Wallace, the festival demonstrates that this generation may be far less jaded and more idealistic than its slacker reputation.??

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