OC's Very Own New Play Festival Takes The Stage at Chapman University

A scene from Night Moths on the WingEXPAND
A scene from Night Moths on the Wing
Stephen Rack

Some like to pontificate that it takes 10 years to firmly establish yourself in any setting. That, of course, is kind of stupid, since it didn't take Mike Trout a decade to become major league baseball's best player, and it only took Henry VI eight months to become King of England—at the age of eight months.

And it hasn't taken a decade for Orange County's lone theater festival  that focuses on new and original plays from current or transplanted Orange Countians to forge a name for itself. Now in its sixth year, OC-Centric will feature two original  full-length plays and two one-acts  receiving fully realized  productions during the two-weekend festival at Chapman University's Moulton Theatre.

The full-length plays include Love All, by Lojo Simon, and Night Moths on the Wing, by Kimberly Kalaja. The one-acts are Kill a Better Mousetrap, by Scott Ratner, and Left Behind Waiting, by Joshua D. Vega. All but Kalaja, who grew up in Westminster, currently live in OC.

While the four plays vary in tone and scope—from the war-torn, atrocity-laden setting of Kalaja's drama play to Ratner's comedy about a man determined to close Agatha Christie's Mousetrap—they all take place in more than one time period, occasionally in the same moment on stage. While that's not why these plays were picked out of dozens of submissions from writers across the country with some OC connection, the time-bending quality does give the festival as a whole a kind of form.

"Really fine plays take you into another world," Associate Artistic Director Eric Eberwein says. "They also have action that tends to move on a kind of mental playing field through time and place. These four plays all have that in common. That's what makes them so cool."

Of the four playwrights, Simon has the largest resume. She's had plays produced in 13 states and works as as a freelance dramaturge, as well as leading a series of play readings in Laguna Beach. Her time-bending play about a man who reveals a Big Secret to his wife of 14 years and his son, is a memory play that the playwright describes as "a story of myth and myth-making, a story in  which inquiry and deception intertwine with memory and forgetting as a family  tries to stitch itself together after the life they thought they knew comes unraveled."

Conflict is also at the heart of the other full-length play, Kalaja's intense work set in a nameless country after civilization has fallen apart.  A psychiatrist from the National Army is hell-bent on getting information from a recently captured rebel leader, whose disquieting rapport with the guards monitoring him makes the task even more difficult.

An analyst also figures into the wackiest of the plays, Ratner's quite funny riff on a man attempting to explain to a psychologist why he needs to close the longest running play in theater history, Christie's The Mousetrap. But what seems to be an anti-Mousetrap play turns out to  be a rather sincere homage to  Dame Agatha's use of plot devices.

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The most affectionate of the four plays is Vega's Left Behind Waiting.  The San Francisco transplant who is pursuing a degree in theater arts from Cal State Fullerton, packs a great deal of emotion and bittersweet poignancy in his 36-page play, which is about a 7-year-old boy and a 20something married woman who meet in 2001 and run across each other some 15 years later.

Now, take the four plays, give them to real directors to shape on stage and real actors to deliver the lines, and then let an audience to see them under the bright lights for the first time, or one of the first times, in their process, and you have a new play festival, Orange County's very own play festival.

OC-Centric New Play Festival, Chapman University's Moulton Theatre, 300 E. Palm Ave., Orange, (714)  902-5716. Shows runs Fri-Sun, the next two weekends. Check oc-centric.com for times. $20, $12 for students. www.oc-centric.com.

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