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NewFest Student Play Tackles Tough Issue with Humor

Emerson actors, left to right, Maggie Dunleavy, Dominique Carrieri, and Josh Telepman rehearse a scene from Jamie Davenport's Woe Be Gone, being performed by Emerson Stage this weekend. Photo/Craig Bailey, Perspective Photo

Recent Emerson graduate Jamie Davenport’s play, Woe Be Gone, is about a dying woman in hospice care who is cheating on her husband with another woman.

Prepare to laugh.

Woe Be Gone is the student playwright selection in this year’s NewFest, Emerson Stage’s series of new work being held now through April 3.

Davenport, who graduated in December 2015, said the play is based on a true story her mother, a hospice chaplain, told her. It’s not a comedy, per se, but Davenport said the humor running through the production is just a function of her writing style.

“The situation itself is not comical, but the way the characters express themselves is,” Davenport said.

The play was selected from a field of roughly 40 entries for the annual Rod Parker Playwriting Award by a jury of Emerson faculty and staff, as well as theater professionals from outside the College. Parker ’51 wrote his first play as an Emerson undergraduate, and in 1991 created an endowment to fund fellowships for student playwrights and support the first productions of their work. Parker enjoyed a long career in TV writing and producing with shows like Maude and Gimme a Break!

David Colfer, general manager of Emerson Stage and the Department of Performing Arts, said Woe Be Gone has a level of sophistication, both for its narrative structure (one of the smallest parts in the play, that of the hospice chaplain, is also the most pivotal in terms of driving the story) and for its depth of feeling.

“She had this experience,” Colfer said of Davenport’s exposure to hospice work, “but she also sort of had an awareness around the experience. I think the language, and the maturity of language that conveys deep feeling and also good humor, is why this play stood out.”

Left to right, Zeke St. John, Josh Telepman, and Kelley Davies rehearse a scene from Woe Be Gone, this year's Rod Parker Playwriting Award winner. Photo/Craig Bailey, Perspective Photo

Davenport said she began writing the play last August, and did heavy revision after it was selected for the Parker Award. She’s made minor revisions since production started.

“Once we did a reading with the cast, I just listened very intently and changed a few lines based on speech patterns so they sounded more authentic,” Davenport said. “I didn’t change the plot at all, which was surprising.”

Davenport said the students acting and working on the production have been “highly professional.” She and director Joe Antoun, an Emerson alumnus and part-time faculty member, have pretty much been on the same page throughout rehearsal of the play, though she said she’s backed off in the last week because she wants to be surprised by the end result.

Woe Be Gone will be performed Friday, March 18, 8:00 pm; Saturday, March 19, 2:00 and 8:00 pm; and Sunday, March 20, 2:00 pm, in the Greene Theater, 10 Boylston Place. Tickets are $12 and available from Emerson Stage

“I hope people come and see the show,” Davenport said. “It’s about something a lot of people don’t talk about.”

Next week, March 22, 24, and 26, NewFest will present readings and excerpts from other Emerson student plays that also showed potential to grow, Colfer said. Student playwrights include Grace Hoffman, Katherine Logan, Sam Terry, Allison Raynor, Lina Benich, Samuel Fidler, and Julian Sky Aldana-Tejada.

And March 31–April 3, playwright Barbara Hammond’s new work, We Are Pussy Riot, will be performed by Emerson students.