Theater Review - Christmas spirits

Marki Shalloe quips her way onto Atlanta theater scene

Atlanta playwright Marki Shalloe has written about pirates, alcoholics, schizophrenics and masturbators. So when you ask if her plays are based on her own life, you're not quite sure you want to know the answer.

"There's bits of me in all of them," says Shalloe, a dark-haired 45-year-old woman wearing a Mickey Mouse watch, "but they're not strictly autobiographical — hopefully, because the current one I'm working on is about suicide."

Shalloe's clever contemporary comedies and historical character studies have made her a quirky presence in the Atlanta theater scene. She's been produced at Theatre Gael, the Process Theatre and Onstage Atlanta, where she won the playhouse's Hometown Playwright's Award for her drama Ariadne's Thread. On Nov. 29 Process Theatre presents her latest drama-with-laughs Four Glasses, a play about alcoholism.

Shalloe explains that the play is her way of answering the question: What makes a person an alcoholic? "It's about a 40ish woman who spends a day in a bar reminiscing about the four significant drinks that made her an alcoholic, starting at age 13, then one in each decade after that," Shalloe says. "The four glasses represent family, sex, God — and the fourth I can't say because that's the closer."

Four Glasses features Kim Salome, Pat Bell, Lynne Ashe, Luis Hernandez and Mark Russ, with Rachel Sorsa on video as a porn star. It's directed by DeWayne Morgan, who also directed Shalloe's hilarious one-act about self-gratification, "One Hand Clapping," for Process Theatre during the 2002 First Glance Festival.

Four Glasses derives from an unpublished novel Shalloe wrote last November for National Novel Writer's month, a yearly online event that challenges aspiring writers to compose a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days. "It's a great way to biograph someone enough to write a play about them. I think of the novels as exercises — theater's what I think I do best." This November she's writing a new novel, called The Suicide Manual, as preparation for another play.

As recently as five years ago, Shalloe never would have imagined she'd be recognized as a playwright, novelist or any kind of writer. "I'm the poster girl for late bloomers," she quips. A Marietta native, she joined the work force immediately after high school to support her ailing parents, landing a job as a secretary for John Hancock Real Estate Finance.

Told she couldn't get a promotion without a college degree, she enrolled in Shorter College in 1993 at the age of 35. Three years later she graduated summa cum laude with a business degree, which she earned at night and on weekends. She's now a real estate officer with the same company she joined out of high school.

After getting her degree, she took a playwriting class on a whim at Theatre in the Square. "I'd never written before and never got encouragement to do so. It never occurred to anyone that I'd be interested in anything but buying the right jeans at the mall. But once I started writing ... it felt right. It sounds trite, but it's still magic to me."

Through her contacts at the class she entered three short plays in Atlanta's Marginal Women festival, all of which were accepted. Subsequently, Theatre Gael's John Stephens requested that she expand one of them, Bald Grace, about 16th-century Irish pirate queen Grace O'Malley, to a full-length play, which the theater produced in 2001.

On Jan. 25-27, Theatre Gael presents Shalloe's one-man show Rogues, Vagabonds & Sturdy Beggars. "It's about 17th- century blind Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan, which sounds very dull until you know he fecked everything upon two legs and was very rarely seen sober. Think Amadeus only with Jack Black instead of Tom Hulce."


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