Cecelia Mason Published

Contemporary Plays Take the Stage in Shepherdstown, W.Va.


Starting this weekend in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, theater lovers will be able to explore such topics of the day as: how the country treats its veterans, artificial intelligence and the ethics of assisted suicide.

The line up for the 24th season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival at
Shepherd University features a play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Charles Fuller that focuses on sexual assault in the U.S. military.

One Night is about two Iraq War veterans who are staying in a seedy hotel trying to make sense of life after the military. Fuller began writing the play in 2008 and as he wrote he kept track of the defense department’s sexual assault reports.

“And they kept going up. I thought my goodness this is something that no one’s talking about,” Fuller said. And I started digging and I found out that lots of women and men as well had been sexually assaulted.”

Fuller injects a lot of realism into the play based on interviews he’s done with veterans who have been victims of sexual assault.

Fuller is an Army veteran- and this is not the first play he’s written that focuses on the military. In 1982 he won the Pulitzer for A Soldier’s Play, a story set in 1944 that deals with murder and race. The play was made into a movie called A Soldier’s Story.

Fuller said military and civilian life are very different and he hopes his work will help those who have not served gain a better understanding of those who have. And he hopes it helps push the public and policy makers to do more for veterans.

“There’s a line in the play that says ‘why am I hero if I die and a nuisance if I live?’  And that has been the history of veterans in this country since its beginning,” Fuller said. “While we really praise them while they’re dying, once they come home we tend to lose interest in them, and that’s the worst part of it.”

In addition to One Night the Theater Festival is offering four other plays this season: Uncanny Valley, North of the Boulevard, Dead and Breathing and The Ashes Under Gate City.

Each play focuses on a concern or ethical issue of our time. CATF Producing Director Ed Herendeen said he doesn’t choose plays with any particular theme in mind, but sometimes- as in the case of this season- themes emerge with questions about ethics, morality, betrayal and the complexities of relationships.

“These writers are responding to the stories that they’re hearing in America,” Herendeen said. “That’s one of the great things about contemporary is that these writers are responding to the present world that we’re living in.”

The Contemporary American Theater Festival runs through August 3, 2014