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Free readings of “Eden Prairie, 1971” at Playwrights’ Center February 6 and 7

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Mat Smart

Core Writer Mat Smart lives in New York now, but spent a handful of years in Minnesota as a Jerome Fellow and a McKnight Fellow in Playwriting at the Playwrights’ Center. Smart’s time in Minnesota inspired the new play he will be workshopping at the Playwrights’ Center in February, called “Eden Prairie, 1971.” Part of the Ruth Easton New Play Series, the play will have public readings on Monday, February 6 and Tuesday, February 7 at 7 p.m. at the Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.

Reservations are recommended and can be made at pwcenter.org.

“Eden Prairie, 1971” is a beautifully etched play that challenges notions of bravery and the true cost of freedom. On the night Apollo 15 lands on the moon, a draft dodger steals home to Eden Prairie, Minnesota from Canada, risking arrest to deliver a message to a young woman from his high school class.

Playwright Mat Smart will collaborate with director Henry Wishcamper** and dramaturg John Olive on the workshop; Billy Mullaney, Meredith Casey and Christina Baldwin* make up the cast (*Member of Actors’ Equity Association; **Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society).

“The play came out of a collision between two distinct experiences I had while living in Minnesota,” says Smart. “The first is, I read a bunch of old letters at the Minnesota Historical Society of soldiers writing home to their families during the Korean War and Vietnam War. Those really spoke to me. To read a 20-year-old’s perspective on going to war—whether it was his own choice or because of the draft—it made me wonder what would happen today if young Americans faced a draft. The second is the time I spent kayaking close to the Boundary Waters, which made me think about citizenship and how these serene, lily pad covered waters are all that separate the United States from Canada. What did it cost those young men, during the Vietnam War, who decided to leave rather than fight?”

“In some ways, the characters’ big questions about bravery and duty are universal,” says Playwrights’ Center Producing Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen. “But they are also dealing with very specific consequences unfamiliar to people who grew up in a post-draft country. The play unfolds in real time over the course of one long scene, and this construction works so well to draw us in to the struggles the characters are going through.”

Mat Smart received the 2015 Equity Jeff Award for Best New Work in Chicago for “The Royal Society of Antarctica” (Gift Theatre), which was developed at the Playwrights’ Center in PlayLabs 2013. Other plays include: “Naperville” (Slant Theatre Project, upcoming at Theatre Wit), “Tinker to Evers to Chance” (Geva, Merrimack Rep), “Samuel J. and K.” (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Steppenwolf) and “The Hopper Collection” (Magic Theatre, Huntington). Mat is a former Jerome Fellow and McKnight Fellow in Playwriting. An avid baseball fan and traveler, he has been to all 30 of the current MLB stadiums, all 50 states and all of the continents.

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at the Playwrights’ Center, now in its 12th year, provides selected Core Writers with 20 hours of workshop time to develop a new play in collaboration with top-notch actors and other theater artists. Plays receive two public readings, giving audience members a unique and immediate way to experience new work and a chance to be part of the creative process. Plays recently seen in the Ruth Easton New Play Series that have full productions this theater season include George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta” Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater and Carlyle Brown’s “Finding Fish” at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis.

The 2016-17 Ruth Easton New Play Series will also feature “The Sea & The Stars” by Harrison David Rivers on March 6 and 7 and “Minneapolis/St. Paul” by Lee Blessing on April 3 and 4. Details at pwcenter.org/ruth-easton-series.

All events in the Ruth Easton New Play Series are free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended; reserve your spots at pwcenter.org or by contacting the Playwrights’ Center at (612) 332-7481 or info@pwcenter.org.

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