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ANPF to wrap up Meridith Friedman trilogy

Ashland New Plays Festival brings back playwright Meridith Friedman to workshop the final part of her trilogy about the Hoffman family.

“I Can Go” finds Richard and David on the eve of their wedding weekend, fretting over plant arrangments and seating lists. As the family descends to witness the nuptials, a secret hangs for the festivities that will drastically alter the couple’s future.

Full of wit and wisdom, Friedman’s 2015 “The Luckiest People” and 2018’s “Your Best One” capture love and heartache as the Hoffmans grapple with challenges we all face: health insurance, child custody, inheritance.

After workshopping “The Luckiest People” with director Kyle Haden of ANPF and a cast of Ashland actors, the play went on to premiere at Curious Theatre Company in Denver.

“It had a successful run at Curious,” says ANPF president James Pagliasotti. “It’s a hot, little theater in Denver. They do a great job. During that time, Curious’ artistic director and Friedman talked about additional stories to carry on the family’s saga.”

“Your Best One” followed, and in March, ANPF presented a dramatic reading in Ashland.

“We didn’t workshop that one,” he says. “It was pretty much finished. It’s premiering at Curious Theatre right now. A workshop is when a play is reworked, but ‘Your Best One’ was ready to go.”

Directed by Paul Mason Barnes, ANPF used the original cast — Jimmy Edmondson, Rex Young, Paul Michael Garcia, Kate Berry and a new player, Cameron Davis, who played the son — in Friedman’s 2018 sequel.

Now ANPF stages a dramatic reading of Friedman’s “I Can Go,” the final installmant of her trilogy about the Hoffmans, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 13, on the Main Stage Theatre in the Theatre Building, 491 S. Mountain Ave., at Southern Oregon University. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at ashlandnewplaysfestival.org or at the door. A Q-and-A with Friedman will follow the reading.

Friedman’s goal is to bring the Hoffmans’ story to a poignant conclusion in her new play, which she will workshop and develop with ANPF’s artistic director Haden, the cast and a dramaturg during the week before the performance.

As before, “I Can Go” will feature the original cast (sans Cameron Davis), along with new members Roman Zaragosa and Eileen DeSandre.

“The only cast member not still in the story is Jimmy Edmondson, who played Oscar, and Oscar expires in ‘Your Best One,’ although Edmondson is going to ask the playwright to write a spin-off for him because we all loved that character,” Pagliasotti laughs.

“I Can Go” also will premiere at Curious Theatre.

ANPF: Are there any lessons you learned from writing the first two plays that help you write ‘I Can Go?’

MF: Having seen production challenges in the first two, silly stuff like quick changes, in ‘I Can Go’ that problem is eliminated. The big question for me is how to write for an audience that hasn’t seen the first two while also writing for the audiences who have. I don’t want to have scene after scene of exposition. Also, I’m thinking about the ending. I want to create a satisfying conclusion for those audiences.

ANPF: Do you find that each play has its own lesson, or is there a broader moral that the trilogy tells as a whole?

MF: It’s funny. As a writer, I find I have to have a healthy dose of self-awareness and an equal dose of lack of awareness. Actors do the text work, examine their objectives, practice, and when they act, they trust it’ll show. I’m the opposite. When I write a scene, I let go and see what comes out on impulse. Then I go back and read it to see what I might be trying to say. I see what I’ve created and what lesson and moral emerge.

ANPF: The only female character in the first two plays, Laura, was a topic of conversation at the ANPF talkback following ‘Your Best One.’ Is there a Laura in your life, and is she in the story for a greater message about modern womanhood?

MF: Laura came out of nowhere, not from someone I knew. In the original version of ‘The Luckiest People,’ it was Richard and his dad, Oscar, over one night after the funeral. Then I started developing other characters. At the time, I was thinking about China and its culture of taking care of parents and the elderly. The law that’s joked about in ‘Your Best One,’ about going to jail if you don’t spend enough time with your aged parents, is real, and that’s why Laura is from there in the story. I liked thinking about Richard and his sister as a way to see how they’d be similar as people who grew up with the same parents and then to see how they would be as parents themselves.

I write women characters who tend to be atypical, and sometimes audiences find them offensive somehow. I think we give male characters a lot more space to be atypical, but if we see a female character who isn’t inherently good and kind and selfless, we react to her negatively in some way. We have such unreasonable expectations of women that we don’t have of men. So, when I write women, I react to that and create representations that are different.