Let's slip into the Way Back Machine and set the dial for 15 years ago. A local actress, Amy Hartman, asks if I wouldn't mind reading a play she's written. I have no idea she has any writing ambitions, and I -- someone who spends most of his time railing against prejudgements -- think to myself: "A play written by a blond actress ... God help us, every one."
It won't surprise regular readers of this space to learn that I was wrong; incredibly wrong. I still remember the afternoon I spent devouring that play and hearing for the first time Hartman's searing, if not soaring, voice as an author. How could this funny, sweet and incredibly vulnerable woman write with such scorching anger and corrupted pain? Who knew?
Since then, Hartman has gone on to become a much-produced playwright both locally and nationally, and I can only hope that once she has a Broadway theater named after her she'll give me the discount price on tickets.
Open Stage Theatre presents the premiere of Hartman's comedy/drama Disinfecting Edwin -- which, as it turns out, is a much-developed version of the play I read that afternoon. A young woman, Cecil, takes the decidedly wacky Auggie hostage because it seems that both have been sharing Auggie's husband, Edwin. To say any more would give away Hartman's outrageous twists and turns.
I did find myself wondering whether -- if I hadn't already known it was such an early work -- Disinfecting Edwin would have still seemed such a "young" play. Hartman has made big changes, but there remains the feeling of a playwright just beginning to explore the boundaries of form and style. Too often the characters and plot just fall away as Hartman turns out page after page of singular, but circular, copy.
Open Stage meets the challenge head on. The story takes a very long time to get started; the first 20 minutes are incredibly busy yet curiously empty. But once everyone settles down, director Lisa Ann Goldsmith does a tremendous job keeping the focus on Hartman's words and allowing them to sing. On David Maslow's vivid set, the couldn't-be-bettered cast of Sharon Brady, Chris Cattell and Ken Bolden play with vivid, almost scalding commitment.
While I'll never go down in the history as the most astute person in the world, I've always prided myself on having recognized Hartman's talent before most everybody else.
Disinfecting Edwin continues through May 9. Open Stage Theatre, 2835 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-294-3353.