Play about a son and his father wins top FutureFest award

Dayton Playhouse honor goes to Los Angeles playwright

A father-son relationship — viewed through the window of the family car — is the winner of FutureFest 2018, the annual festival of new plays presented by the Dayton Playhouse. The play was also voted the Audience Favorite.

“Of Men and Cars” by Los Angeles playwright Jim Geoghan was dubbed a “front porch play” by New York adjudicator Eleanore Speert, one of five judges who evaluated and critiqued the six finalists staged throughout the weekend. More than 250 scripts were submitted this year.

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“It’s a rite-of-passage story, a sweet comedic memory play,” Speert said. “We felt it was wholly realized and ready to go on stage. The humor landed and we were all emotionally moved. The characters were fully realized and sufficiently quirky.”

About the playwright

Geoghan, a seasoned playwright whose work has been commissioned by the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, has received both Emmy and Drama Desk award nominations over the years. He told the audience this play was based on his own life and relationship with his own father.

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“When I was very young, I thought he was amazing,” he told the crowd. “As I got older, I discovered he was not so amazing and I let him know it. And when I got older, I discovered I was not so amazing, and I made it up to him before it was too late.”

The play follows Jim from the age of four when he steals his father’s ‘39 Ford and continues through coming-of-age vignettes that revolve around car conversations. His Dad’s experiences as a World War II bomber pilot become more significant as the story unfolds.

“There is something wonderful about cars. You can have a conversation in a car because it’s a cocoon of sorts,” said adjudicator Peter Filichia. “If other audiences respond to the play the way the Dayton audience did, not only will you be able to buy a new car, but you’ll be able to buy a Lamborghini!”

Directed by Dawn Roth-Smith, “Of Men and Cars” featured University of Cincinnati student Spencer Berta in the role of Jim, Saul Caplan as Dad and Pam McGinnis as Mom. Others in the cast included Charles Larkowski, Heather Martin, Brennan Paulin and Michael Boyd.

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Audience member Sarah Routman of Minneapolis admitted she hadn’t expected to like the play. “I’m not a son and I’m not into cars,” she said during audience feedback. “But I was fully captivated from the beginning.”

Another audience member said the play had him thinking about the father he had been and what else he needed to be doing as a dad.

Special award presented

A Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dayton Playhouse came as a surprise for adjudicator Helen Sneed. Sneed, who lives in Texas and has been judging FutureFest plays for the past 25 years, has become a festival favorite known for her perceptive comments and wit. She has been affiliated with Dramatists Play Service, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre and Walt Disney Theatricals. Her own play, “Fix Me, Jesus,” received its regional premiere as part of the Dayton Playhouse 2014-15 season.

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“I have learned more about the American theater here in this Playhouse than I have anywhere else in my life,” she said, during the closing Sunday night ceremonies. “The reason for this is here with us tonight. It’s all of you … the one constant of FutureFest is the audience. Nowhere in the theater have I heard of a festival that treats its audience with such respect and involvement in the process of suggesting and producing and evaluating new plays. Every year I tell the playwrights: ‘You will never encounter an audience who listens and engages in a play with such devotion and intelligence.’ “

FutureFest is entirely produced by volunteers. The winner is presented with $1,000; each of the other finalists receives $100.

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