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Ashland audiences will get a look at 4 new plays

The readings next week mark the start of the second decade for the innovative festival

To pick four plays for the Ashland New Plays Festival, 15 volunteers read 205 plays from all over the United States and Europe, slogging through 7,000 pages each over several months. The fruits of their labors are on tap now, with the festival opening Wednesday.

We started in March and finally had it down to four in June, says organizer Susan Sincich of Ashland.

The festival has moved this year to Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland, where new plays will be presented Wednesday through Saturday, and playwright workshops are set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The plays will be presented as readings, not full productions.

Tickets are &

36;35 for all four plays or &

36;10 each at Paddington Station in Ashland. Workshops are &

36;5. For details, call 482-4357.

Sincich says organizers hope to draw 1,000 people. She says the Havurah space suits the festival well, with a capacity of about 150, good acoustics and good sight lines.

As it prepares to enter its second decade, the innovative little event-that-could draws audience members from as far as the San Francisco Bay area and play submissions from as far as France and The Netherlands.

Host playwright is again David Rambo of Los Angeles, who welcomes audiences and leads discussions of plays.

Another returning veteran is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Michael J. Hume (Noises Off, The Trip to Bountiful) who at 2 p.m. Friday will direct Eat and Run, a farce by Karl Tiedemann, a New York playwright. It repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday.

The fellow who wrote it is a former writer for David Letterman, Sincich says. There are a lot of sight gags. You'll have to use your imagination, but Michael is so good with that, I'm sure he'll make it easy.

Hume played the director in this year's OSF production of Michael Frayne's farce Noises Off.

Caroline Shaffer, who directed the recent Actors' Theatre production of How I Learned to Drive, will direct The Linden Tree, by Lois Roisman, a drama about the relationship of a Dutch woman and the Jewish man she hid from the Nazis in World War II, at 8 Friday evening. It shows again at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Roisman's plays have been seen nationally. The Linden Tree already has won the Vermont Playwrights Award.

Other plays are Freak Show, by California playwright John Giblin, about a carney whose dreams of a new life are shattered by a deformed freak who runs his life (8 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Sunday); and The Countess and Chicago May, by California playwright Raymond Hardie (8 p.m. Wednesday, 2 p.m. Thursday), a drama set in a notorious prison in World War I London.

In his day job, Giblin is a fine-arts teacher. Hardie grew up in a fishing village in Ireland and has written for the BBC and the Abbet Theatre in Dublin.

If there's a trend in this year's plays, it would seem to be war themes, but Sincich says it wasn't a conscious choice and may or may not be somehow related to Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

I've wondered myself, she says.

Plays selected for reading may have had a previous reading, but they may not have been produced on-stage.

Playwright workshops include Rambo's Magic of the Metaphor on Friday, his The Audience is Listening on Saturday and Shaffer's What is Character? on Sunday. All workshops begin at 10 a.m.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail