Monday, July 31, 2017

Prairie Fire Opens Their MOST HAPPY FELLA Thursday August 3

The Most Happy Fella, a 1956 musical with book, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, brings a little bit of wine country to town this week. Prairie Fire Theatre and director Dawn Harris will open their Most Happy Fella Thursday August 3rd at 7:30 pm in Westbrook Auditorium at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Prairie Fire specializes in performing "professional, first-rate musical theatre and light opera" in Bloomington-Normal and that has often meant Gilbert & Sullivan, with a little Irving Berlin or Lerner and Loewe to mix things up. I haven't seen anything from Frank Loesser there before, but we haven't been without Loesser on local stages, as Illinois State University has done Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in recent memory. The Most Happy Fella is more operatic than those two shows, which means it fits securely in Prairie Fire's sweet spot.

This warm, charming musical about the romance between an older man -- an Italian immigrant who has become a successful grape farmer in California -- and a younger woman, a waitress from San Francisco who happened to pick up Tony's love letter, premiered at Broadway's Imperial Theater in 1956, running for 678 performances and earning six Tony nominations. The song "Standing on the Corner," the one about "watching all the girls go by," was a major hit from the show. Since then, The Most Happy Fella has been revived on Broadway three times, with an Encores! production at New York City Center starring Shuler Hensley, Laura Benanti and Cheyenne Jackson in 2014. You can see a teaser video of that production here, and that video will also give you a preview of Loesser's lush, romantic score.

For Prairie Fire, artistic director Robert Mangialardi will play Tony, the good-hearted but sometimes foolish grape farmer, with Laurel Beard as Rosabella, the beautiful girl he loves. Blake Miller takes on the role of Joey, the handsome young farm foreman whose picture Tony used when he sent letters to Rosabella, while Kelly Riordan and Kevin Alleman play a second couple, Cleo and Herman, who also encounter romantic difficulties. In the 1992 Broadway revival, Scott Waara, who played Herman, was the one who came away with the Tony, maybe because he's the one who leads "Standing on the Corner," or maybe because he gets to be the bouncy, dancy guy on "I Like Everybody" and "Big D."

For more information on Prairie Fire Theatre's Most Happy Fella, click here or call 309-824-3047. Performances run from August 3 to 6, with evening performances at 7:30 pm and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Tony Kushner subtitled his Angels in America "a gay fantasia on national themes." The nation he was referring to was, of course, the United States of America, which is referred to constantly throughout both plays and gets that "America" reference in the title, as well. After seeing both parts of Britain's National Theatre Live cinema presentation of Angels in America, I think I've centered on my biggest problem with this particular take on Kushner's masterpiece. It's just not American enough.

Nathan Lane emerges as a powerhouse in both Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, perhaps because he isn't struggling to find that essential Americanism under Roy Cohn's skin. He's got it. It's to Russell Tovey's and Andrew Garfield's credit that they are better attuned to it, too, and that they both turn in excellent, well thought-out and well executed performances.

As Prior Walter, the man in the center of the action, the prophet, the victim, the one with "gay fantasia" swirling around him, Garfield has the showier role and he makes the most of it. I still think he's channeling Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard too much for his own good, and he looks like he could be Anne Hathaway's twin brother (Anne and Andrew in Twelfth Night, anyone?) but he does jump into Prior's pajamas with both feet, so kudos there.

But I think Russell Tovey is even better as Joe Pitt, the self-loathing gay Mormon lawyer who just can't seem to make his life work. In Part One, Joe is hobnobbing with powerbrokers like Lane's Cohn, imagining himself as a player in Reagan's America. In Part Two, after the explosions of Millennium Approaches, Joe has come hard up against his lies and deception. He's a little panicked and a lot off-balance as he tries to find some sense of who he is. Tovey navigates all that beautifully, with an inner glow that makes it understandable that someone like Roy Cohn would want him on his team, that Louis would be attracted to him, even knowing his politics, that Prior would be devastated to realize THIS is his ex-lover's new beau, that Harper would have married him in the first place. Suddenly the pieces fit.

I can't say that the pieces fit for Susan Brown as Hannah Pitt or Amanda Lawrence as the Angel, however. Brown is better as the World's Oldest Living Bolshevik and her Ethel Rosenberg is good enough in the excellent Kaddish scene, but her Mother Pitt never seems like an American for even a minute. Hannah may be plain-spoken and stiff of spine, but she is also naive in some ways, unknowing instead of uncaring. Brown's Hannah is all rough edges and hard knocks with no layers of humanity underneath. And she can't fully suppress her British enunciation. Lawrence also struggles with the American accents, and she never gets past that problem far enough to sink into her characters. She is undermined by her costumes, as well, which don't take her from the glorious, androgynous white vision carved from Greek marble described in Kushner's Millennium script to the battling black harpy of Perestroika, but leave her as a hard-luck little insect Angel, scraggly and unkempt, throughout. Her version of a Mormon mother who steps out of a diorama is even less successful, blunting the impact of Kushner's "jagged thumbnail" speech and dimming the play's messages about change and suffering.

Those messages are hard to catch throughout Marianne Elliott's production. If this Millennium takes its time to breathe as it sets things up, the companion Perestroika seems to wander and unravel. For a play that debates the wisdom of standing still versus moving ahead, there just isn't enough forward momentum.

Part of that lies in the direction of individual scenes and part of it comes from the murky-after-midnight scenic design, which remains mystifying. Yes, we've lost the revolving set pieces edged in neon (for the most part, anyway) but the new vast and impersonal space with an arching dome -- something like the ceiling inside an old movie palace -- is just as perplexing. I enjoyed the levels and lifts and some of the stage pictures created, like Prior's ladder to heaven, Roy slipping out of his death bed and onto a new plane, and Harper trying to hang on as her scenery is swept away, but in general, the vast expanse swallows up the action. And this stingy version of the Bethesda Fountain, the location for the final scene of the play, is underwhelming at best.

Kushner's play is so beautiful and his characters so strong that it pulls you in even in the places that this particular production falters. There is, after all, some new wisdom to learn from every new Angels in America. This time out, I was struck by a particular speech delivered by Prior:

"Then I'm crazy... The whole world is, why not me?"  As he tells us, every morning he wakes up and it takes him "long minutes to remember...that this is real, it isn't just an impossible, terrible dream."

What could be more timely, more right now than that?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

PEOPLE OF EARTH Is Back (and Not a Moment Too Soon)

Last year, People of Earth emerged as one of the best shows of the fall TV season. Sweet, odd, whimsical... It was different enough to be intriguing, with characters who were engaging enough to keep me wanting to find out what happened next.

And now it's back, with its loopy humor, cranky aliens (reptile, short gray and tall white), confused humans and generally oddball tone intact. Thank goodness! Let's just say I need People of Earth and its insanity to keep me sane.

The first episode of the new season aired Monday, but don't worry if you missed "New Beginnings," the season premiere. You can still catch it on the TBS site or find repeat screenings tonight at 6:30 pm Central, tomorrow at 11 pm, or Friday at 5 pm. "Uneasy Alliance" is up next at 9:30 pm Monday night.

So where are we in the world of People of Earth and what's ahead for Ozzie, the skeptical journalist (played by Wyatt Cenac) who has finally embraced the fact that he was abducted by aliens as a child? Rebel reptile Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy) and his exploded-robot assistant Nancy (Debra McCabe) are trying to put the pieces back together; little gray Jeff (Ken Hall) is still mourning lost comrade Kurt (Don Nelson) and plotting revenge against group therapy leader Gina (Ana Gasteyer), the one who ran over Kurt; tall, pale alien Don (Björn Gustafsson) has fallen in love with Kelly, one of the members of the group, while pretending to be an Icelandic barista; Gerry the UFO expert (Luka Jones) finally got his wish as he got sucked up by a spaceship; a new boss -- a floating box named Eric (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) -- has taken charge of that spaceship, and a hardliner of an FBI agent who once shot herself in the foot has shown up in Beacon, where our group lives and meets, because she is determined to find Jonathan, who she thinks is a white-collar criminal on the lam.

Nasim Pedrad, who has comedy chops good enough to go toe-to-toe with Cenac and Gasteyer, is playing Agent Alex Foster. I have no idea where her storyline will take her, but I wouldn't be surprised if she were a love interest for Ozzie, given that he seemed interested in Kelly, but she is entangled with Don, and the other females in the group are all taken. Or if not taken, involved, since Yvonne (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) and Gerry were just starting to connect when he disappeared, neurotic Chelsea (Tracee Chimo) is into Father Doug the Catholic priest (Oscar Nuñez) and Gina has way too much on her plate to deal with romance. Of course, Agent Foster could also fall for Walsh the reptile, since he is very attractive when he's wearing his human skin. Or she could fall for no one and stay true to her mission. Since creator David Jenkins and his writers continue to surprise me, I'm going to go with that last choice.

Can't wait to find out, though! Next Monday, look for "Uneasy Alliance" at 9:30 pm Central Time on TBS.

Monday, July 24, 2017


The first half of Britain's National Theatre's take on Tony Kushner's blistering and beautiful Angels in America arrived in cinemas last week, looking and sounding just as timely and affecting as ever. The depth of Kushner's language may be what hits you first, but it's the humanity of his complex, imperfect characters that keeps the Angels fire burning throughout Part One: Millennium Approaches.

This production, directed by Marianne Elliott, has been much buzzed about, partly because of its casting. With Nathan Lane playing Kushner's version of closeted gay powerbroker/Joe McCarthy acolyte/friend of Trump/poisonous toad Roy Cohn and Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, a sweet gay man with AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic, there was bound to be notice taken. Both Lane and Garfield are turning in terrific performances, making it clear they were cast for more than just their star-power.

Lane is not the cuddly musical-comedy star you may expect from The Producers or La Cage aux Folles, although the jokes about the latter show at the beginning of Millennium Approaches do take on added amusement coming from him. But as the play proceeds, he starts biting off chunks of Roy Cohn and spitting them out, not afraid to go dark and disturbing when he needs to. He also works beautifully with Russell Tovey, who is really stellar as Joe Pitt, the resolute, married Mormon lawyer who is fighting his attraction to men and unsure about almost everything in his life. Joe can be a difficult character to communicate, given all that repression. But Tovey takes him to a much more vital place. He may be tortured and wrong-headed, but this Joe is alive and searching. He may also be the best Joe I've seen, and with Lane half of the best Roy/Joe combination.

Garfield's Prior is (and should be) the opposite of Joe's turned-in persona. At the outset, Garfield seems to be going for drama queen gusto with his Norma Desmond take on Prior, but his scenes with James McArdle as Louis, Prior's boyfriend who can't handle illness or death, put him in the proper context to break your heart. Garfield has some really fine moments when life (and the fantasia part of Kushner's "gay fantasia on national themes") hit him where it hurts, creating some of Millennium's most powerful scenes.

I also enjoyed Denise Gough, whose Harper Pitt is fragile and strange, but also intelligent, as she negotiates her messed-up marriage and the "threshold of revelation" that connects her to Prior as it gives her some unpleasant truths about her husband. And Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is on target as Prior's ex-drag-queen friend Belize, although I'm hoping he is a little more memorable in Part Two when Belize's role grows.

I was less fond of McArdle's portrayal of Louis, which was interesting if not fully satisfying. He sounds as if he's channeling Gene Wilder to get an American Jewish mood, but... This Louis is really not Jewish at all. He even mispronounces "anti-Semitic." And that's a problem, given that Kushner opens the play with a rabbi who is telling us that Louis's Judaism is bred in the bone. Still, McArdle's killer speech about politics and race shows he can handle the density of the language and still make it seem spontaneous, which is key.

The final two actors in the ensemble -- Susan Brown and Amanda Lawrence, who both play multiple roles -- are less than impressive. Brown is fine as the rabbi, but I didn't care for her stiff and chilly take on Hannah Pitt or the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, and Lawrence struggles to sound American throughout, especially when playing a homeless woman slurping soup in the Bronx. Her entrance as the Angel, which is supposed to be "very Steven Spielberg" and knock-your-socks-off theatrical, is definitely underwhelming, although that seems mostly due to director Elliott's choice to go with hoisting her Angel on the backs of black-clad crew members instead of flying her in through the ceiling and smashing some plaster. This is a bit too minimal and pedestrian.

Ian MacNeil's scenic design and Paule Constable's lighting are also minimalist, focusing on three separate spaces where industrial gray flats edged in neon revolve to carry actors in and out. It's got the look of an Edward Hopper painting now and again, but it's awfully murky, at least on screen, and neither Hopper nor a dystopic Big Brother wasteland suits the material all that well. It's not clear whether the cinematic work needed to transport the action from the National's Lyttleton space to movie theaters is at fault or whether it looked this vast and gray on stage, too, but it's distancing. I have hopes that will improve for Perestroika, too.

In any event, Tony Kushner's masterpiece is strong enough to overcome a few missteps. Or an army of missteps, for that matter. Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika can't come soon enough. It will be here -- in cinemas nationwide -- Thursday, July 27 at 7 pm.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ANGELS IN AMERICA, From National Theatre Live in London to Movie Screens

When you see a play or musical you really love, your reaction may be that you never want to see another production of it, that that one was perfect and you don't want to impose any new production over your memories of the perfect one. Or you may want to see as many different productions of that show as possible. Follies? Arcadia? I'll go see either of them anywhere I can manage. Good, bad or indifferent, there is no production of those shows I will not try.

Angels in America, Tony Kushner's two-part "gay fantasia on national themes" that sweeps together Mormons, Jews, Reagan Republicans and the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, falls into that category. I saw both parts -- Millennium Approaches and Perestroika -- on stage in New York and in Chicago in the early 90s. The Broadway and touring productions were very different, but each was deeply personal, deeply political, heartbreaking and fabulous in its own way. I also loved the small-but-mighty Angels directed by Steven M. Keen for Urbana's tiny Station Theater. And the all-star version version on HBO. Yes, I've struggled through several college productions that didn't send me and found myself unable to get to farther-flung Angels that were very warmly received.

This month, we all have the chance to meet another Angels when Fathom Events and National Theatre Live bring the current London production from the National's Lyttelton Theatre, directed by Marianne Elliott, with Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn and Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, to movie theater screens all over Great Britain and the United States. Part One: Millennium Approaches, airs this Thursday, July 20, with Part Two: Perestroika the following Thursday.

You can find a theater near you at this link. There's nothing in Bloomington-Normal, but in the just-about-50-mile range, you can find the Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria or the Savoy 16 outside Champaign-Urbana. Both theaters are showing both parts of Angels in America at 7 pm on their respective Thursdays and you can purchase tickets now.

If you'd like to read more about Angels in America at the National or see videos, interviews and photos, check out this page at the National Theatre website.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmy Nominations 2017

When Emmy nominations were announced yesterday, I had two reactions: The race for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or Movie may be the strongest Emmy race in history, and what the heck is wrong with Emmy nominators when it comes to The Leftovers?

Master of None
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Will Atlanta sneak in and upset Veep and Modern Family, the perennial contenders? Does anyboy really care what Modern Family does at this point?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Tracee Ellis Ross, Blackish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Allison Janney, Mom
Pamela Adlon, Better Things 

Can anybody take down Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Ever?

Donald Glover, Atlanta
Anthony Anderson, Blackish
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
William H. Macy, Shameless
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets

Emmy voters love streaks, and Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent is one of them. Even though the show itself isn't nominated this year, don't bet against a third straight win for Tambor.

Vanessa Bayer, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Judith Light, Transparent 
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live

AKA the Saturday Night Live category. I'd pick Anna Chlumsky, who has been fantastic on Veep from the get-go, but I think an SNL player will take it. Probably McKinnon again.

Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep
Matt Walsh, Veep

It's lovely to see Tituss Burgess's name, if not Ty Burrell's. Burrell is back for the eighth time in a row. Yes, he's good, but he's not that good. It doesn't matter -- Alec Baldwin is going to win for his recurring role as our current president on Saturday Night Live.

The Crown
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us
Better Call Saul
House of Cards

Who will win? Probably The Handmaid's Tale, although Stranger Things has been buzzy, too, just not as recently as The Handmaid's Tale. But where is The Leftovers? I've asked that for the past few years to no avail. This last season was the best of all and really, really deserved a nomination.

Claire Foy, The Crown
Keri Russell, The Americans
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

Elisabeth Moss and The Handmaid's Tale have made a huge impact on this year's TV landscape. I can't imagine anyone but Moss winning, although Claire Foy's QEII was impressive, too.

Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

It's fantastic to see Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia make the list from This Is Us, which bowed to excellent ratings and critical reaction last season. I'd probably vote for Matthew Rhys from The Americans, long overlooked by Emmy voters, but it's hard not to go with Brown, who was note-perfect all season. And then there's Anthony Hopkins. The TV Academy loves its Brits as well as its movie stars. Hopkins is both. As well as an Oscar winner. 

Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things  
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale 

There should be enough awards to give one to each of the actresses in this outstanding category. They're all that good. I'd probably go with Samira Wiley, but Ann Dowd is hard to overlook.

Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Ron Cephas Jones, This Is Us
Michael Kelly, House Of Cards
 John Lithgow, The Crown
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Ron Cephas Jones has my heart in this category, even though I'm bummed not to see Michael McKean's name for Better Call Saul. Just don't give it to John Lithgow, please. His Winston Churchill was OK, but that's it, and he has been way over-rewarded by the Emmys in the past.

Big Little Lies
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Night Of

I thought Big Little Lies was stronger work all around than Feud and I'd love to see the former win, even as I expect the latter to take the Emmy.

Black Mirror
Dolly Parton’s Christmas Of Many Colors: Circle Of Love
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Sherlock: The Lying Detective
The Wizard of Lies

Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Carrie Coon, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime

The battling divas of Feud take on the wounded modern women of Big Little Lies. I thought Kidman and Witherspoon were more impressive than the campy Feud ladies, and neither Lange or Sarandon really captured the screen legend she was portraying, but... Lange wins a lot, even in bad roles. Still, it could be anybody's prize in this jam-packed category.

Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
John Turturro, The Night Of
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Robert De Niro, The Wizard of Lies
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Lying Detective
Geoffrey Rush, Genius

I'm expecting Ahmed or Turturro to win. McGregor really doesn't belong with the others; his dual roles on Fargo were pretty lame when all was said and done.

Regina King, American Crime
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
Judy Davis, Feud: Bette and Joan
Jackie Hoffman, Feud: Bette and Joan
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Lies

Laura Dern was beyond amazing, although Jackie Hoffman was pretty great, too. I'd be happy with either of them winning.

Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies
David Thewlis, Fargo
Alfred Molina, Feud: Bette and Joan
Stanley Tucci, Feud: Bette and Joan
Bill Camp, The Night Of
Michael Kenneth Williams, The Night Of

There isn't a bad choice in the bunch. Skarsgard and Thewlis were both creepy, scary and terrific in their roles.

The Amazing Race
American Ninja Warrior
Project Runway
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Top Chef
The Voice 

This is one category where I am always bemused. Why so much love for The Voice and The Amazing Race? I have no idea. I'd say give the award to newcomer RuPaul's Drag Race.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Late Late Show with James Corden
Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Real Time with Bill Maher

Go, Samantha Bee!

Wanda Sykes, Blackish
Carrie Fisher, Catastophe
Becky Ann Baker, Girls
Angela Bassett, Master Of None
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live

Riz Ahmed, Girls
Matthew Rhys, Girls
Dave Chappelle, Saturday Night Live
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Saturday Night Live
Tom Hanks, Saturday Night Live
Hugh Laurie, Veep

Alison Wright, The Americans
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away with Murder
Ann Dowd, The Leftovers
Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black
Shannon Purser, Stranger Things

Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
BD Wong, Mr. Robot
Hank Azaria, Ray Donovan
Denis O’Hare, This Is Us
Brian yree Henry, This Is Us
Gerald McRaney, This Is Us

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party
Gordon Ramsay, Masterchef Junior
Alec Baldwin, Match Game
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway
RuPaul Charles, RuPaul’s Drag Race
W. Kamau Bell, United Shades of America

Antiques Roadshow
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Fixer Upper
Lip Sync Battle
Shark Tank
Who Do You Think You Are?

Born This Way
Deadliest Catch
Gaycation With Ellen Page
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked
United Shades Of America With W. Kamau Bell

Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special 2017
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Presents Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Louis C.K. 2017
Sarah Silverman: A Speck Of Dust
Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going To Clean Up This Sh*t?

Hairspray Live!
The Oscars
Super Bowl LI Halftime Show Starring Lady Gaga
70th Annual Tony Awards

The Emmy Awards will be presented by CBS on Sunday, September 17.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Philip Dawkins and NEW PLAYS FROM THE HEARTLAND Starting Tomorrow

The Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland project -- combining a one-act playwriting contest with staged readings and a master class for the winning playwrights as well as a public forum to allow the prominent playwright who selected the winners to interact with the Bloomington-Normal community -- is back this week at Heartland Theatre.

The festivities begin tomorrow night at 7:30 pm when Philip Dawkins, this year's playwright in residence, offers his remarks and takes questions on the art of playwriting in a forum that is free and open to the public. You may remember Dawkins' name from the play Failure: A Love Story, a musical tragicomedy in verse performed at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in 2013 after a successful run at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater. Dawkins is also the author of Miss Marx: Or the Involuntary Side Effect of Living (Strawdog Theatre -- Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work), The Happiest Place on Earth (Side Show Theatre/Greenhouse Theater Center), Le Switch (About Face Theatre, The Jungle), Charm (Northlight Theatre), The Homosexuals (About Face Theater) and the musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches with composer David Mallamud (Children’s Theater Company, Minneapolis). His lyrical, whimsical style makes him a unique voice in American theater.

The three winning New Plays from the Heartland will be performed as staged readings beginning at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday, directed by Heartland artistic director Rhys Lovell. This year's winners are Golden Land by John Adams of Richmon Heights, Missouri; All Sewed Up by Marty Seigel of Bloomington, Illinois; and Annabelle's Last Stand by Todd Wineburner of Pontiac, Illinois. Here's what Heartland has to say about each of the plays:

GOLDEN LAND by John Adams, Richmon Heights MO
A chance meeting in New York in 1904 illustrates that the apple seldom falls far from the tree. The age-old conflict between the disenfranchised and the privileged plays out on a tenement stoop on a hot summer day.

ALL SEWED UP by Marty Seigel, Bloomington IL
Owners of a small-town business and the town manager go head to head against a high-powered corporation. The lingering smoke from an old flame can’t mask a critical flaw that will bring one side down.

ANNABELLE’S LAST STAND by Todd Wineburner, Pontiac IL
A house is not just bricks and mortar; it’s dreams and memories too. And that’s worth fighting for, as a sheriff who is reluctant to exercise his authority soon learns.

For more information on the Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland, Philip Dawkins or the winning plays, you can visit Heartland's website for the full scoop. Please note that this new-play festival is made possible by the Town of Normal Harmon Arts Grant and sponsored by Paul and Sandra Harmon.