Billed as “the world's largest celebration of the arts,” Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an explosion of artistic expression. The Festival, which began in 1947, now boasts more than 20,000 individual performances during its four-week run each August. City streets fill with festival-goers, performers, celebrities, tourists, journalists, and critics. Last year they sold 800,000 tickets.
Since its inception, the Fringe has been a hotbed of new talent. The “next big thing” to hit stages, TV screens, and movie theaters has often been a Fringe hit first. Lea Ann Douglas, who recently produced her UVA thesis playwriting project, The Neophyte, as part of the degree requirements for her M.F.A., is throwing her hopeful hat into the Fringe arena this year.
Douglas’ script has already been awarded the 2001 Clay Delauny Prize for Excellence in Playwriting and has been nominated for the Arnold Wiessberger Award at the Williamstown Theater Festival. After its successful run at the Helms Theater in April (directed by Douglas Grissom), Douglas decided to take the show overseas for a one-week engagement at the Fringe Festival.
The Neophyte is at its core a courtroom drama, but it moves beyond the sensationalized plot lines that usually dominate what we see of that genre on television and in film. Douglas explores the mysterious connection between Oscar Telford, accused of murdering a nine-year-old boy in a convenience store bathroom, and the divine. Telford claims that God told him to kill Daniel Leyland, much as Abraham was ordered by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.
The script further explores Telford’s uncanny ability to empathize with people– including his lawyers– in their most vulnerable moments. Ed Festa, who played Telford in the original production and will reprise his role in Scotland, has been able to find dimensions in the character ranging from ferocity to innocence.
His Telford is a boy with the emotional and spiritual burdens of a man. Particularly interesting is Telford’s connection with Graine Goodwin, played by Victoria Joyce–a law professor who joins the defense team because she somehow begins to understand Telford’s motivations after meeting him. Douglas’ script focuses on huge questions about human purposes, intentions, and disillusion.
“I decided to take the show to Scotland because working on it this spring was such an amazing experience,” Douglas says.
“A few theaters in the U.S. are interested in producing it, but they would re-cast it. I wanted to give it one more go with this original cast,” she adds. So, come early August, she and about a dozen local actors and technicians will board a plane and join the throngs in Edinburgh. Wish them well.
Plans are in the works for a local fundraiser—probably in June– and for several staged performances of the play here and nearby as the cast continues rehearsing for the Festival. Watch for dates and locations. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more or to contribute to the fundraising effort, contact Lea Ann Douglas at Cvillemacka@aol.com. To learn more about all that’s offered at the Fringe Festival, visit the website at edfringe.com.