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We Talked With All 3 Playwrights Whose Shows Are Opening at NKU's Y.E.S Festival

It’s not so much the mystery, playwright Joe Starzyk likes best. It’s keeping an audience guessing. 

“The unknown allows a playwright a really large arena from which comedy can be mined. I love hearing an audience member say, ‘I didn't see that coming.’”

In It’s a Grand Night for Murder, part of the Y.E.S. (Year-End Series) at Northern Kentucky University, Starzyk sets up simple premise: An older man wants to kill his wife to be with his younger mistress. 

Of course, that’s just the beginning. Start the complications. Bring in the hitman – and the mysterious strangers. 

After writing plays in college studying playwriting in Oxford, England, Starzyk took a generation off. He’s back writing plays, many of them unexpected mysteries – and having them produced – after a 27-year hiatus. 

“I think life just happened,” Starzyk muses.  “Before you know it you are buying a house, raising a family, and your priorities shift. It was actually my youngest daughter going through her make your life hell phase that got me writing again. I wrote Wedding Secrets so that she and I could have a bonding experience and it went one to win multiple awards. The nice thing is when you return later in life, you start writing more parts for mature actors.”

He writes dramas, but comedy, he says, is the genre he’s most comfortable with. “I'll leave it to the therapists to decide where that comes from.”

Murder is definitely non-traditional and Starzyk said writing it was “liberating. There is no boiler plate formula. As long as there is some plausibility to the actions and the crime, then you are free to go wild. 

“Plus there is something delightful about a rich man wanting to get rid of his wife so he doesn't have to share the wealth, but needing to shop for a deal on a hit man.”

So -- if a detective walked into the show, who would it be? Columbo? Charlie Chan? Nero Wolfe? Miss Marple? Magnum, PI?

Starzyk laughed.

“My initial answer would be Columbo, but he'd be too clever to inject into the plot. I have to think about how I'd use each character.

“I decide – Magnum. He'd swagger in, but I would have most of the characters comment about his hair, or his porn star mustache. In fact, some would be certain they had seen him in a particular X-rated film. 

“There would be some references to Friends. Then there would be multiple attractions, and finally Magnum would wind up dead.”

It’s a Grand Night for Murder, 8 p.m. April 18, 19, 22 and 24, and 1 p.m. April 25. Corbett Theatre Fine Arts Center, NKU, Highland Heights. Tickets $14 adults, $11 seniors and $8 students. 859-572-5464 and www.theatre.nku.edu.

David Williams and his Divine Visitor


The Divine Visitor by David Williams is a Restoration comedy that brings our 21st century into the silly plot about a rake who decides to fake his death and return as a ghost. 

The play, says Williams, came together the way a lot of his plays do.

“I have a bunch of little ideas bouncing around in my head, but I don’t bother putting anything on the page until I can start seeing where at least two of these little ideas could work together and form an honest-to-goodness play.”  

With Divine Visitor, the ideas were time travel and Restoration comedy and an unexpected twist. He happily calls the play “a mash-up.”

Williams was tired of the tropes of time travel lit – “where the people from the present would find they had so much to learn from the people from the past. The idea that the wiser people were the ones who came from a time where women couldn’t vote and people owned other human beings rubbed me the wrong way.”

So he decided to write about the past learning from the future, the past being the Restoration, where rakes populated British stages, avoiding debt collectors and seducing married women and naïve virgins.

To mix it up a little more, there’s a ‘presence’ that watches the action from the viewpoint of a 21st century New York City woman. 

For Williams, Restoration comedies are “a guilty pleasure, full as they are of ridiculous and often morally repugnant people and situations, but I’ve always loved their commitment to language and everything it can do.  

“The characters are all witty in their own ways, spouting double entendres and plays on words on every page, and as a writer it’s a delightful challenge to be able to write for people this wonderfully loquacious.”

Divine Visitor reunites Williams with director Michael King. They first teamed for Spake in the 2013 festival. Williams says King is, “a terrific director for my material. He understands the piece as a whole. 

“Mike is great at knowing how to balance seemingly opposing forces in a play and work in the soft edge between them, creating a piece that is true to both spirits of the work.”

8 p.m. April 17, 21, 23 and 24; 4 p.m. April 18, 19 and 25; 1 p.m. April 26. Stauss Studio Theatre

Colin Speers Crowley and his Encore, Encore

Dorothy Parker’s bittersweet life – publicly acclaimed, privately filled with tragedy – is the subject of Encore, Encore.

Playwright Colin Speers Crowley says he’s more an admirer than a fan of Parker, celebrated as one of the great wits of the New York literati in the 1920s. She wrote poems, short stories, plays, screenplays, but claimed fame as a drama critic (in the era when everyone read reviews) and originator of biting bon mots: “Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B”, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie”, “It's not the tragedies that kill us; it's the messes”, "You can't teach an old dogma new tricks”.

And of course, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses”.

“It's very difficult not to admire her intelligence and her diverse artistry,” Crowley noted. And her self-awareness. Parker also said, “There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.” 

If there was an inciting moment for Encore, Encore, it was an undergrad course on “wit” at Northwestern University. Crowley found, “the dissonance between comedy and tragedy intriguing.”

He also felt the juxtaposition “of the humorous and the hurtful in quick succession…creates a kind of emotional vertigo.” 

Parker’s life was a perfect topic for exploration of the theme. Her tragedies, he believes, were directly connected by the impact WWI and her marriage to a young man who came back from the front with what is now diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The way Parker proceeded through life wasn’t good for her but it makes good drama in Crowley’s view. “Dorothy jumped into her public life as a shelter from the pain of her personal life, but, in doing so, she just isolated herself more from the grim realities she really had to confront.” 

Crowley came to NKU for rehearsals at the end of March and spent time with director Ed Cohen who is convinced that there’s more of a spotlight on celebrity culture than Crowley realizes.

Crowley wanted to take on a serious, even tragic character study that had inherent comedy, Cohen explains; but Cohen sees another clear thread. “With famous people, there’s always a duality. They like being famous – but everything people know is superficial. A celebrity’s life can be a disaster even while the public life is an enormous success. People don’t want the reality. They want the fantasy,” Cohen said.

Crowley has written several scripts and enjoying some success. 

Crowley has been enjoying success with his scripts. Encore, Encore had a workshop Off-Off Broadway, as did Harriman-Baines (“A dark, eerie, non-historical piece,” Crowley defines). Fifteen Men In A Smoke-Filled Room had a staged reading in London’s Covent Garden in 2012 (“marvelous!”) and has been featured in four other contests.

Crowley came to NKU for rehearsals at the end of March and spent time with director Ed Cohen who is convinced that there’s more of a spotlight on celebrity culture than Crowley realizes.

Almost everything about Parker’s life, through Crowley’s script, Cohen says, illuminates that, “With famous people, there’s always a duality. They like being famous – but everything people know is superficial. A celebrity’s life can be a disaster even while the public life is an enormous success.People don’t want the reality. They want the fantasy.”

Crowley is looking like an up-and-comer with workshops and contest wins. With a B.A. in History and Political Science and a master’s in Security Studies (“basically ‘national security’”) his themes have included “the existence and nonexistence of fate, the primacy of the individual in society, the illusions we create to save ourselves from loneliness, and other similar weighty factors. I do, though, have a great love for history.”

Encore, Encore, 8 p.m. April 16, 20, 23, 25; 1 p.m. April 18. Corbett Theatre Fine Arts Center, NKU, Highland Heights. Tickets $14 adults, $11 seniors and $8 students.  859-572-5464 and www.theatre.nku.edu.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts