CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Sept. 6, 2012 -- A play written by a Southeast Missouri State University faculty member has won first place in the Sixth Annual Stage West Southwest Playwriting Competition.
“Murphy’s Law,” penned by Dr. Kenneth L. Stilson, professor of theatre and dance, won top honors in the contest, tying with a manuscript titled “The King’s Face” by Steven Young of Dallas, Texas.
“I am thrilled,” Stilson said. “It’s very rewarding seeing something go from inside your head to an actual production. Sitting in front of a computer writing is the most solitary thing I do, and it’s exciting to see how others interpret your work and the effect it has on a live audience.”
Set in a suburb of St. Louis, “Murphy’s Law” is described by Stage West as, “a three-character comedy about a high-stakes conflict between two childhood friends now deeply entrenched in the Mafia.” They went on to say, “Snappy dialogue and fabulous characters paired with a quick-paced story and lots of great stage conventions made this one a favorite in the competition.”
In Sopranos-like fashion, filled with humor and violence, this play recounts the unusual evolution of the two men’s relationship with each other and with Murphy’s sister, Sofia, who suffers from schizotypal personality disorder. The story leads to a surprising discovery and an unexpected conclusion.
“I have always had a fascination with the Italian culture, and I was hooked on movies about the mafia. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen ‘The Godfather’ movies. From 1999-2007, my wife and I were huge fans of ‘The Sopranos.’ I loved the way they humanize the Mafia. Tony and his associates were businessmen and thugs when they had to be, but what made the series so successful were their relationships, their home lives and the humor.
“I was also heavily influenced by the Quentin Tarantino movies, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs,’” Stilson said. “I love how he mixes violence with comedy.”
Stilson’s “Murphy’s Law” will be fully produced at Southeast April 25-28 in the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre, with Dr. Phil Nacy, chair of the Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, directing. The production is part of the 2012-2013 Second Stage Series.
“I’m very excited about that,” Stilson said.
As winner of the Stage West Southwest Playwriting Competition, “Murphy’s Law” will receive an Equity staged reading in late February and will be considered for full Equity production as part of the 2013-2014 season. Actors’ Equity Association is the professional actors’ union.
Stage West’s Sixth Annual Southwest Playwriting Competition drew many entries from playwrights with at least two years of ties to Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas or Louisiana. Plays could not have had a professional production prior to the April submission deadline. The competition used a method in which the readers did not know the names of the playwrights before the final results were announced. There were three rounds of reading, and the final round included eight plays.
Stilson qualified for the competition as a former resident of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, where he served as head of the acting/directing program in the Conservatory of Theatre at Texas Wesleyan University and as artistic director of Shakespeare in the Park, an Equity summer theatre in Fort Worth, Texas. Playwrights in the competition must reside in or have lived in Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma or Louisiana for at least two years.
Stilson began writing “Murphy’s Law” about a year ago. Last spring, it was accepted as one of two readings as part of the University of Missouri’s Summer Repertory Theatre. Prior to the reading, Dr. David Crespy, professor of theatre and artistic director of the Missouri Playwright’s Workshop, served as Stilson’s sounding board as he developed the script in preparation for the summer reading
“He’s an extraordinary playwright and dramaturg, and his notes were key in completing the final “reading” draft,” Stilson said.
Last spring, an actress in Ft. Worth suggested Stilson submit “Murphy’s Law” to the Southwest Playwriting Competition at Stage West, an established professional company in the middle of the city.
“I had seen numerous productions there and had worked with a number of their actors in the 1990s, but I had no formal association with them,” he said. “I had been working with David Crespy on the ‘reading’ copy. I felt good about its progress, so I decided to submit it into the competition.”
Stilson began writing plays during his tenure in Texas. His first play, “Where the Lilies Grow,” was one of the winners of the Yukon Pacific New Play Lab in Alaska. It was later produced by the American Academy of Dramatic Art in Hollywood, and it was adapted to the screenplay, “Fire Lily,” in 2006. Stilson directed that film, having co-written it with Fred Jones and Shirlee Wilson of the Southeast faculty. “Fire Lily” went on to win Best Feature Film, Best Cinematography and Best Actress in a Leading Role at the American Artist Film Festival. “Fire Lily” also was a juried official entry into the Lakeside Theatre Festival.
He also wrote the absurdist comedy “The Cow and the Milk,” which was selected as part of the prestigious Last Frontier Theatre Conference Play Lab in Valdez, Alaska, in summer 2011 and produced as part of Southeast’s 2011-2012 Second Stage Series.
As a professional actor, director, writer and administrator, he also has worked in such theatres as the Lincoln Center (New York City, N.Y.), American Academy of Dramatic Art and the Hudson Theatre (Hollywood, Calif.), Southern Repertory Theatre (New Orleans, La.), Cultural Arts Center (Florida), Le Petit Theatre de Vieux Carré (New Orleans), University of Missouri Summer Repertory Theatre, Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, Mizzou New Play Series, and the Mississippi Shakespeare Festival.
He holds both a doctoral degree and a Master of Arts in theatre from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Southeast Missouri State University. Before returning to Southeast, Stilson served as head of acting/directing programs at the University of South Alabama, Texas Wesleyan University and Stetson University (Florida), and as an instructor of theatre at Tulane University. He is co-author of four editions of the legendary textbook, “Acting Is Believing,” with Larry Clark and the late Charles McGaw. Adopted by more than 150 colleges and universities nationwide, the 12th edition of this text is scheduled for publication in 2014. He also has published the critically acclaimed “Ezra Stone: A Theatrical Biography,” and has written numerous articles on acting and theatre.
Stilson continues to serve in leadership roles on numerous national committees, and, over the past 15 years, has presented master classes and presentations at various regional and national conventions and at numerous universities, colleges and high schools.