Back Stage Press-Heartbreaker

Hygienic Theaterwerks debuts with Michael R. McGuire's edgy new drama

Most developmental theaters have certain lofty goals for plays.

Meaning regional theater, national tour, or - God and producers willing - Broadway.

But, realistically, most dramas will never make it all the way to a big tour or the Great White Way.

A fresh program at the Hygienic is taking what founder James Stidfole describes as a longer view. What the Hygienic Theaterwerks production company is doing is giving local writers a little help toward getting their plays into script catalogs used by community theaters and schools.

"I know that every high school drama coach and every community theater group in the country is pawing through Samuel French and Pioneer catalogs, hunting for something to do. Because there are only so many times you can do 'The Odd Couple' or 'The Sunshine Boys,'" Stidfole says.

If they decide to do one of the plays, they pay the play-publishing-catalog company, and the writers get a portion of those profits.

Stidfole says that, in general, for a play to be submitted for consideration for a catalog, it needs to have had a full production and to present the stage manager's run script, with all the lighting cues, sounds cues and prop lists.

"It's like, wow, if we do real productions and hand the playwrights these tools - now, of course, it's up the playwrights to follow through - but at least they now have the tools," Stidfole says.

Hygienic Theaterwerks thus plans to start regularly producing quality and perhaps edgy works by regional playwrights.

First up is Michael R. McGuire's "Heartbreaker," which is being staged tonight and tomorrow at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford. (This isn't an O'Neill production; Hygienic Theaterwerks is renting the space.)

"Heartbreaker" is set in a strip club - the publicity for it is clear that it's rated R and contains topless nudity. Its thought-provoking plotline is loosely inspired by the Duke University lacrosse team incident of 2006. Two African-American strippers from a strip club are hired for a frat party, leading to an accusation of rape and a firestorm of controversy.

"The thing that interested me about that was that it hit all the hot points in American culture of sex and race and class. They were all there in that one story," McGuire says.

It was interesting, too, in the sense that there was more going on than it first seemed.

As for the Hygienic Theaterwerks' efforts of helping locally written dramas find their way into catalogs, McGuire says, "It's great to get it in a catalog. I have plays that are in catalogs, and they do generate some money but not that much. It's more exciting just to get it in front of an audience."

It's not only that, he says, but also having a new play get a full production, not just a reading.

"Heartbreaker" - which was a semi-finalist for the O'Neill's National Playwrights Conference - drew the interest of Sarah Coleman, who is directing the piece and is Hygienic Theaterwerks' artistic director. She first worked with McGuire on the Hygienic's 24-hour play project last year, and then staged his "Bad Boys" at the Golden Street Gallery.

While Coleman is an actress - she worked as one in L.A. from 2000 to 2008 - she has studied directing before with her mentor, Oscar-nominated actress Lindsay Crouse. With the 24-hour project, she began pursuing more directing.

She has pulled together a cast primarily from New York City (one actress lives both locally and in New York) that she knew could handle the challenging material.

They include Sharina Martin, Leonard Dozier, Sarah Gold, and George Katt, who won the "Best Breakthrough Actor Award" at the New York International Independent Film Festival for his starring role in "Valley of Angels."

Coming to southeastern Connecticut (her parents live in Groton Long Point) has proven a happy experience for Coleman.

"I've never lived anywhere that had this kind of community support that not only is everybody showing up and participating and encouraging, but everybody also generally has their own artistic things going on and are highly intellectual about it. There just isn't a better community for getting things up and on their feet. So I'm sort of addicted to the area. Because I just spent eight years in Los Angeles. I was with the Los Angeles Shakespeare Company, and it was like pulling teeth to get people to come see an amazing production of 'Othello,'" she says.

As a history major at Florida State University, she says, she has always been fascinated with the overwhelming need for human beings to be right and with the nature of hatred - both issues that "Heartbreaker" explores.

Even after this production is done, Coleman says, "I'm not letting go of this play. This is an incredibly professional and well put-together run-through in preparation for, hopefully, a longer run. ... It really deserves an extensive amount of time and focus."

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