Veterans rights focus of winning play at Dayton’s festival of new plays FutureFest

A tense drama inspired by a historical event took top prize at FutureFest 2019, the 29th festival of new plays hosted by the Dayton Playhouse.

Massachusetts playwright Jared Eberlein received $1,000 for his play “Fall With Me,” which centers around one man’s moral dilemma and his fight for veterans’ rights after World War I.

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Theater critics from throughout the country gathered in Dayton July 19-21 to select the winning play from six that were presented on stage.

The Audience Award went to “On the Horizon” by Shelli Pentimall Bookler of Philadelphia. Her play, also based on a historic incident, involved the SS Californian, a ship within 10 miles of the Titanic that did nothing to help the sinking ship because its Captain failed to acknowledge his crew’s warnings.

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The winning play, which focused on an African-American family in Baltimore, is based on the true story of a group of protesters known as the “Bonus Army.” In 1932, veterans and their families came to Washington, D.C., to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. They were driven out and their shelters and belongings burned.

“I have a fascination with the 1930s, and I happened upon these elements that I thought could be relevant today,” Eberlein said after accepting the award. “We still haven’t cracked the code as to how we treat our veterans.”

Judges labeled his play, which included songs, both “lyrical” and “poetic.”

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Adjudicator Stephanie Cowen said she had never seen a play quite like “Fall with Me.”

“The idea of veterans being sent off to fight for their country and then coming back to a situation where bonuses are denied during a Depression and being snubbed by the country they fought for is such an interesting premise,” she said. “It is still so current and this play adds a layer of family drama that really resonates.”

Audience member Pat Drake of Centerville noted that many of the weekend’s plays revolved around moral choices made by men in power as well as historic incidents with relevance for today.

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A total of 353 script submissions from around the world were received and reviewed for this year’s festival. The weekend is made possible by more than 150 volunteers. Cowen, new to the festival this year, said it was heartwarming to be in a place where new works are so embraced by the community.

Other finalists include “The Princess of Midnight” by Linda Ramsay-Detherage, “Which Way the Wind Blows,” by Robert Weibezahl and “Men Overboard” by Rich Orloff. Due to a family emergency, playwright Norman Mathews was unable to attend the festival. As a result, his play, “Drone,” was presented but eliminated from the final competition.

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