Chapel Street Player’s NEXT’s – George Cope 24-Hour Playwriting Festival.


Joe Pukatsch, Christy Wall, and Susie Moak work out blocking details with members of two different casts

A friend of mine asked me to write a review of playwriting festival, but I can’t.


I can tell you what I saw, heard, felt, and experienced, but a review is out of the question.

You see, I love the George Cope 24-Hour Playwriting Festival and there is no way I could possibly give you an unbiased review of this miraculous event. So, I am not even going to try.

At about 7:30 pm, Saturday night, the clouds opened and proceeded to pour buckets of water, about 100 hearty souls came to the Chapel Street Player’s Theater, in Newark.

As they dripped their way to their seats, having paid a scant $5, Jose Pukatsch, Lyn Anderson, and Alan Harbaugh raced about shaking hands, making notes, and pressing buttons that made the lights work correctly.

Writers and directors took their seats, held their collective breaths, and each in his/her own way, crossed their fingers.

And after 24 straight hours of casting, writing, and rehearsing — It was showtime!

The night’s emcee, Mr. Harbaugh said it best, “24 hours ago none of this existed,” he said.

Mr. Harbaugh told the drying audience that writers started writing Friday night, and handed off their scripts to directors Saturday morning, and the directors worked throughout the day with casts they had never seen before.

Before the first show, Mr. Harbaugh and Mr. Pukatsch paid a tribute to the festival’s namesake – George Cope. The festival, they said, was Mr. Copes brainchild. Mr. Cope died earlier in the year.

The first ten-minute number was “The Connection” by Sean Kelly, directed by Zachary Jackson, starring Mike Barko, and Connie Regan. It told the story of two memories finding each other in the fog, gently coming together, and drifting back to the fog only to reset again (implying the perpetual remembering and forgetting and remembering again).  

“Unbreakable” by Eric Merlino, directed By Judy David, and starring Susan Boudreaux and Angela Teague was up next. It was tricky little number that told the story of a covetous niece visiting her aunt to buy a valuable painting. Both ladies handled their roles with grace and aplomb. There was a surprise ending and I won’t reveal in case it is ever staged again.

The Birdcage by Lance Thompson. Was a bit more straight forward. (Mr. Thompson was also on the committee that brought the whole evening to life). Sean McKeen, veteran of the first 24-hour ply festival, directed this adult comedy about a woman who finds her own way out of oppressive marriage while maintaining her vows. Michelle Opalesky hopped, skipped, and drug one leg across the stage, wreaking revenge on her philandering husband played with despicability by Leslie Blackburn.

The Magic Stone was playwright Joe Redden’s maiden voyage with the festival. This show directed by Aneila Meinhaldt (many may know her from Reedy Point), Vaughan Ellerton, Mr. Harbaugh, and Heather McCarty portrayed a family finding a magic stone and greedily wishing for everything, but world peace. It was a scream. (A special note Heather McCarty was hilarious. Her voice, movement, and pitch were superbly funny).

Next up was “The Key’s the Thing” written by me. Susie Moak, directed Marlene Hummel and Josh Coslar in this upside down story of a crime family matriarch. Marlene’s special tonal quality and ability to make great faces drove the piece with just the right amount of crazy. Mr. Coslar’s performance built on itself until an explosive end.

Then came the night’s most “no holds barred” production of  “Sleigh Bells” a script written by Jacob Hunter, Kevin Meinhaldt (yes, that Kevin Meinhladt), and award winning playwright Brain Smith. This was a Sweeney Todd, meets Rudolph, meets Body Heat kind of story full of hilarious characters and one dead Santa. Like I said, “No holds barred.” Although Lacey Eriksen, Andre Wilkins, and Gina Olkowski were the only three on the stage, it sure seemed like more. They approached their roles with the enthusiasm of a border collie on speed and with the precision a laser surgeon removing a speck from an eyeball. It was wonderful.

Pulling six different plays, with six different directors, six different casts together I am sure was like herding cats. If I ever need lessons on feline wrangling, I’m calling stage manager Christy Wall. She single handedly kept all the trains running on time and in the same direction.  

I guess that’s it.

It was a great night of homegrown theater for the folks who made it through the rain. In a way the rain was kind of fitting. This was the first time Mr. Cope’s name was added to the event title, so it was more of a baptism of a new thing instead of handwave goodbye to friend.



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