A local festival highlighting the intersections between visual and performance art kicked off this weekend in Binghamton. On Friday, the 16th-annual Playwrights & Artists Festival at KNOW Theatre showcased the plays “Remembered,” written by John Mabey and directed by Nick DeLucia, which won Best of Festival this year, and “Randall & Sons,” written by Sarah Lyn Eaton and directed by Tim Gleason, artistic director of the KNOW Theatre. The plays, based off the photograph “Traces — Mudroom” by JW Johnston, are two of six shows chosen from more than 90 submissions to be produced by the KNOW Theatre over the next two weeks.
Every year, participating playwrights are challenged to script a play based off three different art pieces by three artists, and after a lengthy process, they eventually get assigned a director and actors by Gleason.
The playwrights of both of Friday’s works pulled similar details from the artwork, according to Johnston.
“I would have to say, generally speaking, I find it extremely interesting how two different people could see this work I created and come away with interpretations, some of which I got and some of which I didn’t see coming,” he said. “I find it very interesting. I said during the talkback, ‘Everyone can come away with a piece of art with their own interpretations,’ and that was worn out, obviously by these two wonderful plays we saw. So I guess that was my biggest takeaway.”
The plays and artwork were accompanied by a music composition created by Tom Rasely, which was also inspired by Johnston’s photograph. Rasely’s composition was a cover of the song “Traces” by Classics IV.
“Remembered” focuses on the relationship between a buyer, played by Erik Young, and a seller, played by Susan Stevens. The buyer visits the seller to discuss a deal each year, and their relationship goes further than business and becomes intimate.
These scenes highlighted DeLucia’s directing work, which Mabey especially appreciated.
“The director of this piece did a phenomenal job, and I was just talking to him about his process,” Mabey said. “I purposefully didn’t put in a lot of stage direction because I really like the collaborative aspect of it, of writing something and just letting it go. I thought what he did with this was he created moments from the dialogue. The seeds of the physical interaction were in the dialogue and he brought it to life in a way that I wasn’t even expecting.”
Both characters deal with loss, and one of the characters, Doris, especially feels the pain of her mother’s death as she reminisces about the memories she had with her in their mudroom — the key starting point from the photograph. Mabey said he was looking to prioritize loss as a theme as he wrote the play.
“I developed it in this way because I really wanted to talk about loss, but also to me there’s two sides of loss,” he said. “There’s the sadness of losing something, but then when you also find someone who’s experiencing the same loss, you can actually get something from it. So there’s two people who are feeling lost in the world in different ways, but their ability to both embrace that feeling of loss connects them, so they find something new in the loss.”
“Randall & Sons” explores the relationship between a father, Dave Merrell, and daughter, Amanda Marsico, focusing on how it has been influenced by their complicated family history. From Marsico’s ruined marriage with her wife, who left her for another woman, to a member of their family overdosing, Eaton crafts a dramatic and tense script.
Johnston said “Traces — Mudroom” was inspired by his father’s frequent note-keeping and constant scribblings. Fathers are prominently featured in both plays, as Eaton said she was also inspired by her father in deciding where to start.
“It evoked memories of my father and for me, it came with him not being where he wants to in his life and carpentry is a thing for him,” Eaton said. “He’s a factory worker, like I said on the stage, he now fills trucks of lumber for construction sites at 67. I looked at [the photograph] every day just to spend a little time with it until I heard the conversation between a man and his daughter about how neither of them knew what was going on in each other’s lives anymore because they had been so focused on caretaking … That is where I started with the play. This is them trying to find just that first footstep forward.”
The festival will continue next week at KNOW Theatre, with each program starting at 8 p.m. On Friday, Nov. 29, the theatre will feature “A Big Ocean” by Arianna Rose and “Your Turn” by Judd Lear Silverman, inspired by artist Tom Haines’ print, “Someday My Prints Will Come.” “Remembered” by John Mabey and “Randall & Sons” by Sarah Lyn Eaton, inspired by Johnston’s photo, will be shown again on Saturday, Nov. 30, and the theatre will put on productions of “Anyplace That’s Not Home” by John Shea and “The Model” by Judith Pratt, inspired by Audrey Higgins’ painting, “Folded,” on Sunday, Dec. 1.