“I may be meant for the drama — God knows! — but I certainly wasn’t meant for the theater,” 19th century literary giant Henry James once confided to his friends.
Finding success in both book form and on the stage isn’t easy for the most talented of writers, and William Kennedy understands the challenge as well as anyone. Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Ironweed,” and the author of seven other books relating to Albany’s history, Kennedy is about to see his newest creation on stage.
“The Light of the World,” a story dealing with the Phelan family from his earlier books such as “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game” and “Ironweed,” will be on display for the public as part of Capital Repertory Theatre’s ‘Next Act!; New Play Summit 3,” to be held at Proctors and Capital Rep from Saturday through Monday.
“It’s a different way of telling a story, and Henry James had a terrible time with it,” said Kennedy, who will be at Monday’s public reading, which begins at 7 p.m. at Capital Rep. “It’s something I’ve continued to work on and make revisions. Maggie doesn’t even know about the new rewrite I’m doing.”
Maggie is Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, the artistic director at Capital Rep and a personal friend of Kennedy’s.
‘Next Act!: New Play Summit 3’
‘Next Act!: New Play Summit 3’
WHERE: Proctors GE Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady, and Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday through 9 p.m Monday
HOW MUCH: $15-$10, per day
MORE INFO: 455-7469, www.proctors.org
“We are honored to be doing a staged reading of William Kennedy’s new play,” Mancinelli-Cahill said.
“He has made a lot of progress on it this year, and while there have been a few public readings for insiders, this will be the first time the public really has had a chance to hear it. We’ll have actors up on stage reading, and they’ll be reading this incarnation for the very first time.”
It’s not the first time Capital Rep has produced a piece by Kennedy. Back in 1996 they did a version of his play “Grand View,” which was well-received. It wasn’t, however, his first play.
“I wrote a play when I was working in Miami, and it didn’t go anyplace,” he said. “Nobody liked it, and I didn’t like it either. Then in the 1980s people kept asking me to write a play, and finally I did ‘Grand View.’ It did pretty well, and got produced in a few other places.”
After his modest success with “Grand View,” however, Kennedy went back to what he knows best, writing books.
“If I had started off in the theater I probably wouldn’t have had the problems I did writing plays,” he said.
“In writing a play you have to stage everything as if it’s happening right now, and novelists have a tendency to lapse into a novelistic form of storytelling on the stage. And that doesn’t work.”
But while he was working on “The Flaming Corsage,” “Roscoe” and his most recent novel, “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes,” he was still playing around with “The Light of the World,” which was originally titled “Dinner at the Phelans.”
“There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of rewriting, but I did keep on going back to it,” said Kennedy. “Then, when I got done with ‘Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes,’ I took it off the shelf and said to myself, ‘I’m going to make this thing work. It’s been a long process, and I still think of it as a work in progress.”
Before Kennedy’s work gets put on display Monday evening, “Next Act!: New Play Summit 3” will have unveiled three other new plays, including another work by Suzanne Bradbeer, whose play “The God Game” was the hit of the inaugural new play summit in 2012. This year, out of 300 blind submissions, Bradbeer was selected again with “Naked Influence,” a story about an exotic dancer who has difficulty getting herself out of the business.
“She tries to leave the profession, but she realizes that there is a rush of adrenalin with her dancing, and that she does have this compulsion, almost an addiction about it, so leaving gets very complicated,” said Bradbeer.
“The God Game” was given a full production at Capital Rep last year, and has since been produced in Houston and at Hudson Stage in Armonk, where The New York Times praised it.
“It was very well received, and that’s gratifying,” said Bradbeer. “People are saying nice things about it, so I’m very happy to be working with Maggie again on this new play.”
“Naked Influence” will be read at 1 p.m. Sunday at the GE Theatre in Proctors. The other two plays selected are “Blanquita,” by actor and NYU grad Zack Calhoon, and “Crib,” by Clark University professor Gino Dilorio.
“Blanquita,” set in the American Southwest, will be read at 5 p.m. Sunday, and “Crib,” about the mix of sports and academics at major colleges, will be read at 7 p.m Saturday. Both readings will be at the GE Theatre.
“Three very diverse plays rose to the top from 300 submissions,” said Mancinelli-Cahill. “It’s always interesting to see what writers have on their minds, and this year we had many plays that dealt with drones, surveillance, the recession and university politics.”
Kicking off the event at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the GE Theatre will be “Next Voices,” which introduces three short works written by playwrights from Albany High School.
At 3 p.m., a series of excerpts called “The Top 15,” will showcase plays that received serious consideration but weren’t quite selected as the three finalists.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]