PAD premieres Hotchner-winning play ‘Candlestick Park’

Two years ago, Washington University alumna Elizabeth Birkenmeier (LA ’08), then a junior, relished her role as a rash, young Queen Elizabeth in the historical drama “Highness,” winner of WUSTL’s 2006 A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition, held annually in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences.

Birkenmeier has returned to campus, but this time as a playwright who will witness the world premiere of her own winning production, “Candlestick Park” March 26-29.

Photo by David Kilper

The cast of Elizabeth Birkenmeier’s “Candlestick Park” includes (from left) seniors Jonathan Baude as Sam and Adina Talve-Goodman as Prudence; and freshman Robert Birkenmeier as Danny.

Birkenmeier’s play won the 2008 Hotchner Playwriting Competition, named in honor of alumnus A.E. Hotchner, renowned novelist, playwright and biographer.

Set in present-day Chicago, the play centers on the relationships among three characters. Sam, 24, played by senior Jonathan Baude, is the serious and likable protagonist grappling with the recent knowledge of his girlfriend’s infidelity.

Prudence, 23, played by senior Adina Talve-Goodman, is Sam’s outspoken, witty downstairs neighbor who loves Beatles’ songs. Prudence is blind, the result of retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disease that took her sight when she was 16. Prudence is obsessed with learning as much as she can about Sam’s life.

Danny, played by Birkenmeier’s brother, Robert, a freshman, rounds out the cast as a foul-mouthed, lonely gas station attendant who is Sam’s good friend.

Performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 26, 27 and 28; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29.

“Candlestick Park” is “a simple play that focuses on the subtle changes in people as they intersect,” Birkenmeier said. “Even in our toughest or most vulnerable moments, we can’t really shake the voices of other people from our brains. We’ve all been profoundly impacted by people we know, even if we’ve only known them briefly.”

The play takes its name from Candlestick Park, home field of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team and venue where the Beatles performed their last live, full concert Aug. 29, 1966. The music in the production serves as a kind of underlying soundtrack that moves in and out of the play’s action in a meaningful way.

“The first production of a play is part of the writing process,” says Andrea Urice, senior lecturer in drama and the director of “Candlestick Park.” “A playwright needs to move the writing out of her head and into the mouths of actors and the hands of a director and designers. It’s an exciting, evolving process.”

Urice credits Birkenmeier with writing a strong script portraying “an active, sensory world rich with aural, visual and tactile imagery. The dialogue is crisp and clever, and the characters are distinctly drawn,” Urice said.

The Hotchner competition is known for drawing exceptional writing from aspiring playwrights, due, in large part, to the influence of Carter W. Lewis, playwright-in-residence in the PAD, said Urice.

“Carter has developed a vibrant script development program. Between his classes, the Hotchner workshop, the Hotchner competition and several annual student-led new play festivals, Washington University has an exceptionally strong playwriting program.”

In fact, the inspiration for “Candlestick Park” grew out of an exercise in Lewis’ playwriting class. The image Birkenmeier described on a notecard — “cigarette burns a hole through a leaf” — became a scene that she developed to arrive at her play.

What is it like for a budding playwright to see her work in full rehearsal?

“Awesome and informative,” Birkenmeier said. “It takes the imagination of so many people to create the full work of art. I am thrilled to get to reimagine the text with Carter Lewis and Andrea Urice, two people whom I truly admire.”

Junior Nora Palitz designed the set. Costume design is by Sallie Durbin, PAD costume shop manager, and lighting design is by senior Will Calvert. Sound design is by senior Laura Castanon. Stage manager is Stephen McDaniel.

The Hotchner Competition selects student scripts for development each year, resulting in the Hotchner Playwriting Workshop. During the workshop, all scripts receive two weeks of attention from a dramaturgical guest artist and culminate in a staged reading with student actors and a faculty director. Every other year, one work receives a full theatrical production.

Urice, who specializes in new play work, has served on the Hotchner selection committee nearly every year of the competition since she came to WUSTL in 1997. She has worked with The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky., The St. Louis Repertory Theatre and theaters in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, among others.

Hotchner, a 1940 WUSTL graduate, is the author of numerous screenplays, novels, plays and memoirs, including the 1966 volume “Papa Hemingway,” which recounts his long friendship with the famous writer. His memoir, “King of the Hill,” which depicts growing up in St. Louis, was made into a feature film in 1993.

Tickets — $10 for students, faculty, staff and seniors and $15 to the public — are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543.