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Feedback Matters

Forum helps local playwright develop a thick skin.


She videotaped the play, held an awards ceremony and even spray painted a doll metallic gold to serve as the coveted Oscar. Brendlinger wrote a play for the next reunion, but her relatives agreed to do only a reading. “There was no set design, no blocking,” Brendlinger says, “and it was an extreme disappointment to me.”

Despite her family members shying away from subsequent productions, Brendlinger was hooked on playwriting. She set out to read every playwriting book she could find and attended more than a half-dozen workshops, from the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference to Robert McKee’s Story Seminar in Washington, D.C.

Today, Brendlinger’s work is finding acceptance by a much wider audience than her own clan. In 2002, her comedy “Money Matters” won two national playwriting contests and placed second in another. She won cash prizes and full productions at Theatre Conspiracy in Florida (World Premiere, September 2002); Jewel Box Theatre in Oklahoma (August); and Lake County Repertory Theater in California, (September). Local critics showered Brendlinger with praise. “Passages of dialogue and a cross-purpose plot project shades of Oscar Wildean wit,” one reviewer wrote, “with a dash of Shakespearean romantic comedy.” Not bad company for an up-and-coming playwright. Brendlinger and her husband, Dirck, attended performances of each production. “I can drift along on the high for a long time,” she says.

Inspired by a photo of a happy bride and a miserable groom, “Money Matters,” is a drawing room comedy. Set in the 1890s, newlyweds, on their wedding night, come to the rude realization that they each have married the other for money. To get out of the marriage without losing the loot, the couples’ antics include an attempted murder, an electrocution, a séance and a sewer gas explosion.

Brendlinger gives much credit for the development of her play to the Richmond Playwrights Forum of which she is a charter member and former president. Retired FBI agent Bob Turnage organized the forum in 1996 to give playwrights a venue for developing their works. “I’ve gotten far more out of the forum than all the conferences I’ve attended,” Brendlinger says. Drafts of “Money Matters” were read and critiqued at meetings. Following revisions, the comedy won a spot in the RPF Footlight Series and earned a staged reading at the Barksdale Theatre.

Members of RPF meet once a month at Barksdale to critique a play. Often professional actors read the script, giving the playwright an opportunity to hear his or her words for the first time. A discussion follows. “To be with other writers is invaluable,” Brendlinger says. “Writers are your toughest critics — they lay it on the line.” Brendlinger believes writers need to develop a thick skin. “If it hadn’t been for RPF,” she says, “I wouldn’t have had the confidence to enter my plays.” Another success for Brendlinger is her one-act play, “Catch of the Day.” It was produced by Offstage Theatre in Charlottesville, and by Bigfork Community Players in Bigfork, Mont.

While Brendlinger is buoyed by her recent success, she knows it is difficult to find a home for new plays. “I pay homage to local theaters that do new work,” she says, and mentions the Richmond Ensemble Theatre, Firehouse Theatre Project, and Barksdale Theatre (of which she is a board member). “Because new plays often lose money,” she says, “producing a new play is a very bold thing to do.”

Brendlinger hopes “Money Matters” will one day play in Richmond. But for now she is on to her next play, a comedy about a character with multiple personalities — seven, to be exact. “It’s a daunting project.” Relishing the challenge, during 11 days at home without electricity after Hurricane Isabel, Brendlinger was not idle. “In the dark, with a flashlight,” she says, “I started writing.” S

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