Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Death and the Maidens: The 2001 Hotchner Award Winners

Each year the Washington University Performing Arts Department holds a competition for student playwrights to have their works performed, allowing the winners to work with theatre professionals. This year’s Hotchner Award winners are: first runner-up Kerry Mulvaney, with her play Chatter, and finalist Marisa Wegrzyn with her work Killing Women. This year also marks the return of playwright Julie Jensen, who will be serving her second year as visiting director of the University’s A.E. Hotchner Play Development Lab. Jensen’s works include Two-Headed, Last Lists of My Mad Mother, The Lost Vegas Series and White Money. Jensen is a recent recipient the NEA/TCG Residency Grant, and is presently the Resident Playwright at Salt Lake Acting Company in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Carter Lewis, Washington University’s playwright-in-residence, described the selection process as two-tiered, with a general reading of all the submissions followed by a deciding panel of three PAD members and one outside judge. From those judges the finalist and runner-up are chosen. Both winners’ plays are workshopped with WU actors and a guest director, who for this year is the returning Julie Jenson. The Hotchner Award’s finalist winner, this year’s Killing Women, will have a full production in the spring PAD season. Lewis explained that the judges are, “urged to not only look for the best play, but to take into consideration the level of writing and the ‘degree of difficulty’ in what the writer is attempting to achieve.” Lewis had high praise for this year’s winners, and described Mulvaney’s Chatter as a, “funny, joyous and heartbreaking story,” and Wegrzyn’s Killing Women an, “an equally compelling and raucously funny tale.”
Mulvaney’s play, Chatter is the story of how two siblings, Maggie and Charlie, personally deal with the murder of their mother and the media circus that springs up around it. Mulvaney explains, “at its core, it explores the strength and dignity of children in general, and of siblings in particular.” The play uses a multi-media presentation with news broadcast clips cutting between scenes and the characters. Chatter, true to its title, also explores language and how people communicate about death.
Mulvaney explains that there is a story behind Chatter. “It was written as a wedding gift for my oldest friend in the world who did indeed suffered through the murder of her mother when she was about Maggie’s age. Her mother was like my second mother, and for such a long time I have wanted to let my friend know how much this loss affected me and how her more than mature handling of the situation at such a young age has inspired me for the past 12 years.” Mulvaney adds, “This is not a sad play, laden with death, destruction, hopelessness and fear, but rather a celebration of a woman’s life and of the power of children to cope. which is something that we all have been coming to great terms with in the past 7 weeks.”
Wegrzyn, whom readers may also recognize from her Hotchner series runner-up play last year, Polar Bears on U. S. 41 or her weekly Cadenza column, “Chainsaw Calligraphy,” might be disturbed by the her play’s title, Killing Women, which deals with female hitmen. Wegrzyn remarked, “the play’s title has given quite a few people pause, as it should, but when I tell them what the play is about, there’ s a moment of dawning realization followed by an amused laugh. I’m never quite sure how to take that laughter. Are they amused because I tripped them up by using ‘killing’ as an adjective instead of a verb, or are they amused because they think giving this job to women is a novel idea?”
It’s true that the topic of assassins, much like the mafia, have become the dark darlings of popular culture, but rarely do women have a chance to play a role in those sagas outside of sexual objects, which is what Wegrzyn’s play attempts to do.
By having the finalist play, Wegrzyn has the unique opportunity to see her work evolve from the written word to live action. Wegrzyn describes her Hotchner experience as, “a wonderful discovery process, having actors give voice to the characters-I get to hear where the play really sings, and also where it makes nails-to-the-chalkboard. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my play this way, and I’m lucky to be able to work with playwrights/dramaturgs Julie Jensen and Carter Lewis, two very gifted and generous artists.”
The Hotchner Playwright Award and the Play Development Lab are named in honor of A.E. Hotchner, a 1940 graduate of Washington University. Hotchner was a prolific author of numerous screenplays, novels, plays and memoirs, including the 1966 volume Papa Hemingway, which describes his experiences with the legendary author. Hotchner’s King of the Hill, his Saint Louis memoir, was made into a film directed by Stephen Soderbergh in 1993.

Chatter
When: Tuesday November 6th, 4:30 pm
Where: Women’s Formal Lounge, Olin
How much: Free

Killing Women
When: Thursday November 8th, 7:30pm
Where: Women’s Formal Lounge, Olin
How much: Free

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