Parker Lemal-Brown ’18 has written a play about an old man who has decided to take to his deathbed. His cavalier attitude about dying disturbs his daughter, and the result is an absurd, funny, and dramatic little tale that pokes fun at our relationship to mortality.
The short one-act, Gesundheit, has been selected for the upcoming Maine Playwrights Festival. The festival, now in its 17th year, invites submissions from writers living in Maine — from successful playwrights to writers who are sending in their very first script. After reading the 62 submissions this year, the festival committee selected five works to be produced at the Portland Stage Company April 26 through May 5.
The judges, who read the submissions without knowing the writers’ names or bios, chose Lemal-Brown’s farcical play because “it is really funny,…it is smartly written,…and Parker also wrote a good artistic statement,” said Daniel Burson, the artistic director for the Maine Playwrights Festival. “The dialogue has great pace and movement to it, which is what actors look for,” he added.
Bowdoin Professor of Theater and Dance Sarah Bay-Cheng urged Lemal-Brown to submit some writing to the festival last fall, specifically recommending Gesundheit. Bay-Cheng describes the one-act “as a clever little play that is deceptively simple, but like much of Parker’s work, offers a wry take on a subject rarely used for humor: death.”
Lemal-Brown, a sociology major and Francophone studies minor, wrote the play to explore the absurdity of death and, yet, at the same time, touch on its depths and its power. In this Lemal-Brown emulates the playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. “He thinks a lot about his time and his legacy,” said Lemal-Brown. “He talks about being driven by death and the ideas in his head that no one will ever know” if he doesn’t write them down before he dies.
The Maine Playwright Festival is currently holding auditions to select actors for the festival’s five works. Lemal-Brown will be invited to attend rehearsals and engage in the production process, collaborating with playwright-in-residence Callie Kimball, Burson, and the cast and crew. Burson said this process is valuable for playwrights, especially young ones. “Our mission is to serve writers here in Maine,” he said. “We want to see the play grow and give the playwright a great experience.”
In an artist statement to the festival, Lemal-Brown writes about looking forward to further developing and humanizing the one-act’s characters and to “extract sharper jokes and deeper truths out of the piece.”
Additionally, Lemal-Brown is working on other writing, including a one act for Bowdoin’s upcoming One Act Festival, and a longer play called Recur, which is about women in computer science and working on artificial intelligence. To research this, Lemal-Brown interviewed twenty women in STEM fields at Bowdoin, both students and faculty.
Bay-Cheng said she’s looking forward to seeing more from Lemal-Brown in the future. “Parker has a great ear for dialogue, especially its rhythms and the hidden weirdnesses of language. That, combined with an agile imagination and a killer work ethic, makes for a good playwright,” Bay-Cheng said.