Next weekend will be a busy one for Chameleon Theatre Circle. The 13th annual New Play Festival features dramatic readings of this year's winners, a glimpse of the company's upcoming season and a full production of the one-act drama "Steel Kiss."
"This is the second time in recent years where we have made the festival into more of a weekend of activity," said Jim Vogel of Chameleon Theatre. "This was what we had hoped to do when we moved the festival to September, and we will strive to continue that in the future."
Each year the theatre company sifts through hundreds of original plays and selects a limited number to honor with concert-style readings. The selection committee read more than 400 plays this year, a huge increase from previous years, and the fest features 11 winners.
"You get a sense of what the play is like without doing a full production," said Andrew Troth. He will direct a reading of "Jane the Plain," a drama focusing on the lives of six high school students, on Saturday at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.
This year's winners include two full-length musicals, which is unique for the festival. The first, "Mom!", is a fun, heartfelt, raunchy, unflinching look at the joys and complexities of modern motherhood. It includes numbers like "Hot Mama Blues," where performers whirl mops and sing about efforts to rekindle marital passion, and "Gotta Do It All," about the angst of balancing work and motherhood.
"I'm really fond of the piece," said Brad Donaldson of Minneapolis, who directs a 20-minute segment of it. "It's fun, thought-provoking and moving, about motherhood on all levels, the good, the bad and the ugly."
"It's right on spot," agreed Kasey Scarpello of St. Paul, who acts and sings in the short production and is the mother of a 10-month-old.
Marlo Miller of Burnsville will direct a section from a musical version of "Wind in the Willows," an adaptation of the popular book, with songs like the ballad "There's a Prince in Every Toad" and the upbeat "The Viper 8000 Scarlet Scorpion Streak," about the character Toad's zippy new car.
"There was a lot of great material this year," said Scott Gilbert of Little Canada, who directs "A Brief History of Mah Jongg," a one-act about four women who used to meet weekly and unite 20 years later for one more game.
"This is the one that really spoke to me," Gilbert said. "It's a beautiful piece.
Gilbert also directs the staged production of "Steel Kiss," a one-act based on the real-life murder of a gay man in Toronto in 1985. Each of the four actors takes on various roles in the production, which ultimately casts all of them as both victim and perpetrator.
The play tells the story of gay bashing from various points of view, Gilbert said, and examines the role society takes in perpetuating hate. Each performance will be followed by a discussion.
There will also be readings of winners of the 2011 New Play Contest: "The Buffer" (10-minute play category) and one-act play "The Watch," at the Burnhaven Library at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The festival also offers a glimpse of Chameleon's lineup for its 15th season.
Offerings include David Mamet's satire of the film industry, "Speed the Plow" (Oct. 12-21); "Return to the Forbidden Planet" (Dec. 7-16), a musical that sets Shakespeare's "The Tempest" in the future; "Completely Hollywood" (Feb. 15-24), a spoof of cinematic classics; "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," (March 22-April 7), a musical based on Charles Dickens' unfinished story; and the irreverent comedy "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress" (May 3-19).