EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2014

A tale of survival

New Works Festival's winning full-length play onstage tomorrow

By Ann Reily
Features Editor

---- — The call couldn’t have come at a better time.

Playwright Cassie Seinuk was taking an early fall walk near her Somerville apartment with an actress friend and having a frank discussion about their futures.

“We walked for like an hour, and we talked about how there are so few opportunities for her as an actor and me as a playwright,” Seinuk said. “I was telling her how I haven’t gotten that ‘aha’ moment with a full-length play.”

As Seinuk was heading back to her apartment, her phone rang. She was working as a stage manager at the time, so when she didn’t recognize the number, she thought for sure it was one of her actors saying they were going to be late for rehearsal.

But it was Kimm Wilkinson, artistic director at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport. She told Seinuk that her full-length play “From the Deep” was the winner of the Pestalozzi Prize in the New Works Festival.

And Seinuk suddenly had her “aha” moment.

“I started jumping up and down and squealing and stuff like that,” she said. “It was great, it was really great.

“It’s such a different feeling when it’s a full-length play,” said Seinuk, who has had more than 20 stagings of her short-length plays. “Every once in a while, it’s easy to get to a point, ‘Is this what I should be doing?’”

She said winning the $150 prize was validating: “Yes, this is what I should be doing. And it’s great to be reminded of it.”

“From the Deep” will be presented at the Firehouse tomorrow night. The plot is “very loosely” based on two missing people cases that were in the news a lot in October 2012: Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held by Hamas militants for more than five years before being released, and Jonathan Dailey, a Boston University student who was missing for several days before his body was found in the Charles River.

Though Shalit was let go in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal, his first televised interview wasn’t until the following year. Seinuk was struck by his comments about playing games, like balling up his socks and shirts and seeing how many times he could land them in the trash bin.

“I’m always inspired by stories of survival and dark, dark things,” Seinuk said. “I was really inspired by this idea of, ‘I played games.’ Maybe that’s the way to survive.”

In the play, Seinuk puts her two characters, Ilan Shaliach, an Israeli prisoner of war in captivity for five years, and Andrew Dayton, a kidnapped Boston University graduate student with a deep secret, together in a sort of “holding room” with three doors and a pingpong table. Ilan, who is played by Boston actor and voice teacher Charles Linshaw, thinks the two will be OK if he teaches the laid-back Andrew to play games and fight for his life.

“The play is about a lot of things,” Seinuk said. “It’s about what they have to do to survive in real life and in the room itself. People in captivity, what do they do to survive?”

Newburyport native Jeff Marcus plays Andrew. Seinuk sought him out for the role after being impressed by his performance in the play “True Believers” a couple of years ago.

“Andrew is a very pragmatic but introverted person who has only been able to live his full life in his head because he hasn’t been able to show his true self to anyone for fear of who he is,” Marcus said. “He looks at our world and tries to figure it out.”

“From the Deep” was developed as Seinuk’s thesis at Lesley University, where she recently received her Master of Fine Arts in writing for the stage and screen. It is directed by Lindsay Eagle of Somerville and also features Lindsay Brissette of Portsmouth, N.H., who will read the stage directions.

Though tomorrow’s performance is a staged reading, Seinuk said it will be “a little different than a typical, just-sitting-at-a-music-stand reading.”

“It’s a very active play,” she said. “The guys are really excited. There are going to be some moments that the audience will be surprised about for a reading.”

“It’s really intense, and I think it’s a fantastic script,” said Marcus, who is looking forward to performing in the Firehouse theater for the first time since high school.

The Pestalozzi Prize is given each year to a full-length play in honor of the former Pestalozzi Foundation set up by Herman Honegger after World War II to create educational opportunities for underprivileged children. The New Works Festival prize is a gift from the Honegger family.

The festival will wrap up Saturday with a program of eight short plays, including “Recalculating” by Steven Eimert, winner of the Peter Honeggar Prize. Given by Lois Honeggar in memory of her late husband, the $75 prize is awarded to both a one-act and short play each year. Peter Honeggar was a longtime member of the local theater community and a judge for the New Works Festival.

While there are still tickets left for tomorrow’s performance, Saturday is sold out.

If you go What: "From the Deep," the New Works Festival's full-length play When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m. Where: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport How much: $13. Tickets available at the box office, by calling 978-462-7336 or online at www.firehouse.org