By Cassidy Klein
The Queens Theatre seeks to serve the Queens community through presenting the many diverse voices in the borough and its 2018 New American Voices series, starting Oct. 20, will showcase new plays that delve into the struggle to remain truthful to oneself.
“Our plays include underrepresented voices in Queens,” said Rob Urbinat, the director of New Play Development at Queens Theatre. “People are clearly interested — there is some kind of need for these plays.”
The New American Voices series has been a part of the lineup at Queens Theatre since 2002. This year, the theater — located at 14 United Nations Ave. South — will present works by writers who speak to Queens’ cultural mosaic.
The final event of the series will feature eight to 10 short plays by local writers that explore the lives of those with disabilities. The plays will either by written by someone with a disability or have a character with a disability.
“In as many cases as possible, characters with a disability will be played by actors with those disabilities,” Urbinat said. “We want a variety of tone — some funny, some dramatic — and a variety of disabilities. Put together, it will be fascinating.”
The theater received 172 submissions for the short plays this year. Urbinat said they expected around 60 submissions and were blown away by the response. The finalists for these plays will be announced in the coming weeks.
Donna Hoke, a playwright from Buffalo, will have a play in the series about a 1950s gay bar in New York City. This is the first time she has had one of her plays read at the Queens Theatre.
“New voices are the lifeblood of theater,” said Hoke. “People get so hung up on going to [a show] they already know and love, but those plays were all new at one point, too. New plays are a hard sell, and it takes a theater like Queens Theatre to take a chance on new plays.”
Hoke’s play, “On the Roof,” will center around the patrons of the gay bar as they struggle to find themselves in the dangerous and difficult era of McCarthyism, when “sexuality was still seen as a mental illness and was illegal.”
“The idea behind it is now, with pride and empowerment, people don’t realize that back then it was the simplest act of even just going to a meeting or gay bar that was an act of bravery,” Hoke said. “Back then, a gay bar was a safe place of refuge. I think the younger LGBT generation is unaware of what got them here today.”
Fouad Teymour, a playwright and engineering professor based in Chicago, will be showcasing his play “Twice, Thrice, Frice,” about three Arab-American women who are forced to re-evaluate their faith when a crisis strains their friendship. This is also his first play at Queens Theatre.
“The inspiration [for the play] is trying to talk about ideologies that we believe in that we follow, often blindly, even when it goes against our own motive,” said Teymour. “Sometimes we follow religious or political ideology even though it could hurt us, we believe that’s just how it is when really they are things imposed by bodies that are more powerful.”
Teymour hopes the raw humanity of his characters comes through to the audience.
“We are all dealing with the same problems and life challenges,” he said. “I hope people think about these topics discussed in the plays and be inspired to make a life change. This theater has nurtured a community that comes to listen to a voice that is different from their own.”
“Twice, Thrice, Frice” will be read Oct. 20 at 8 p.m., while “On the Roof” will be read Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. The short plays on disabilities will be read Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. with ASL interpretation and audio description. There will be audience talk-backs following each reading.
Urbinat urges those who wish to attend to reserve their seats early. Although the shows are free, he said they tend to sell out quickly.
“We live in one of the most diverse communities in the country,” Urbinat said. “The series is meant for the audience to be exposed to different voices in the borough.”
Reach reporter Cassidy Klein by e-mail at cklei