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Short and Sweet: Three out playwrights showcase works in ‘10×10’

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3x3: Fernando Dovalina is one of three openly gay playwrights participating in Scriptwriters/Houston’s annual 10x10 festival of short plays.

by Donalevan Maines

Gay playwrights Aaron Alon, Fernando Dovalina, and Eric James have written up a storm. All three Houstonians’ short plays about Hurricane Ike have won spots in Scriptwriters/Houston’s annual 10×10 production of 10-minute scripts, so they will be performed four times, at 8 p.m. Aug. 26–28, and at 2 p.m. Aug. 29, at Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Lane.

This is the fifth year in a row that 10×10 has recognized the talent of James, who by day manages the Bering Omega Dental Clinic in Montrose. The first four years, gays and lesbians were featured in his plays. He wrote this year’s entry, “Night 4,” with two gay men in mind, but director Laura Schlecht, particularly identifying with one character as a female, decided to cast the play with a man and a woman who get “hot and punchy” as sexual sparks fly after too many days without electricity.

“I really like the idea of the characters being able to be played by anyone,” says James. Eventually, he would like to see “Night 4” performed by two male actors, but, he laughs, “I have a tendency to name my characters A or B because I like the universality of the idea that the characters can be played by either gender—that what affects relationships is no different between gay and straight. So no names, just A and B.”

James moved to Houston from a Chicago suburb after his father landed a job as a copy editor at the Houston Chronicle. That’s how James met the second gay playwright in this year’s 10×10, who was his father’s boss at the newspaper.

Dovalina was assistant managing editor in charge of the Chronicle’s news desk when he retired 10 years ago. This is also his fifth 10×10 outing.

Joining Scriptwriters/Houston, which sponsors the annual 10×10 playwriting competition, Dovalina decided that playwriting “is what I’m going to do.”

His most recent production staged in an exotic locale was The Comfort of Anger in Cleveland, Ohio, but he’s also been produced locally—most notably with the recent film noir-ish Photographs of a Cheating Husband and Unhinged Productions’ American Homefront, about the family of a gay soldier who was killed in Iraq.

Dovalina was born in Laredo and grew up with Spanish as his first language. Having graduated in 1963 with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, then working at three major daily newspapers, Dovalina smiles, “I made a pretty good living with English words.”

“The biggest kick I get is actually finishing a play,” he says. “The rest is gravy.”

His 10×10 entry this year is “Waterfall,” set in a Galveston seawall bar around the first anniversary of Ike’s landfall. The characters include a bickering straight couple, a cynical Chronicle reporter who is Hispanic, and a bartender with a dark secret.

“Waterfall” is also notable for what its fans promise is a stunning climax that, several told me, “will make the hair on your arms stand up.”

Rounding out the trio of Ike plays is “The Great Storm” by Aaron Alon, a composer whom 10×10 introduced last year with his short play “Family Portrait,” a dark comedy about a gay man and his siblings who gather once a year to appease their mother by having a family portrait made.

“The Great Storm” is fast-moving and electric as five characters speak directly to the audience in alternating monologues. They range from a teenager who celebrates the storm because it frees him from his stepfather’s abuse, to an older Jewish woman whose TV-watching addiction is comically thwarted by the power outage.

Another character in “The Great Storm,” Alon says, is based on his friend Deb Murphy, the mental-health care provider whose poignant article “I Hear the Birds Singing” in the July 2009 issue of OutSmart launched the magazine’s report on the Galveston LGBT community post-Ike.

Alon’s music has been performed around the world by acclaimed musicians, included on three music labels, and awarded a number of national and international composition honors.

One of Alon’s current projects is a musical collaboration with fellow out playwright Joe Barnes, who is also represented in 10×10 with “Quality Time,” a play whose characters’ sexual orientations are “simply not specified,” says Barnes.

In addition, Alon and James are mounting a collection of short plays called The Great Storm to commemorate Ike’s second anniversary. It’s tentatively scheduled for a mid-September debut at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak at Heights Boulevard.

Donalevan Maines also writes about the Emmys in this issue of OutSmart.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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