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'Cost of Living' a search for deeper survival

What’s an unemployed New Jersey truck driver like Eddie Torres doing in a hipster bar in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn? Eddie, a character in Martyna Majok’s play “Cost of Living,” is offering wisdom like, “The s—t that happens to you is not to be understood.”

It’s not a monologue, because Eddie is talking to a guy he’s buying a drink for, but really, he’s talking to you and me, in a very long speech that introduces the play’s themes. And what we get from Eddie is a feeling of deep longing.

Sometimes that thing he said is true. But if it were always true, guys like Eddie wouldn’t still be trying to connect with somebody, and people wouldn’t be writing plays about guys like Eddie and the other damaged souls in this tight, one-act drama that kicked off the Ashland New Plays Festival’s first-ever Women’s Invitational Friday at Southern Oregon University.

The competition is an effort to promote parity in theater by staging readings of plays by an emerging generation of women playwrights. The three winning plays from among 30 submissions will run in repertory today, tonight and Sunday at SOU’s Music Recital Hall.

Eddie (Armando Duran) has lost his wife, Ani (Regan Linton). Twice. The first time when all the little stuff that messes up a marriage piled up and they finally split up, and the second time to death, but only after they reconciled when he volunteered to be her caretaker when she wound up in a wheelchair after an auto accident.

Meanwhile, out in Jersey, John (Christopher Imbrosciano), who is rich and beautiful and has cerebral palsy, has hired wary, overworked Jess (Valerie Anne Huntington) to be his caretaker. She already works as a bartender, but she apparently needs the money. Like Ani, who resists getting involved again with Eddie, Jess is initially reluctant to get too close to John.

Majok has said the characters started out in disparate stories about economic struggle that fused into a play about people searching for a deeper kind of survival. The emotional content of that longing is conveyed with minimalist sets (we’re imagining a full production here) and situations, and in the simple language of the street: direct, earthy, urgent. There are scenes of great tenderness. Penny Metropulos directed.

Majok, 31, was born in Poland and grew up in New Jersey and Chicago and earned a master’s degree from Yale. Her plays have been performed and developed at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Marin Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Women’s Project Center, The John F. Kennedy Center. She has taught as an assistant to Paula Vogel at Yale.

The other new plays in the rotation are “King of the Yees,” by Lauren Yee, directed by Holly L. Derr, and “Hanna and the Dread Gazebo,” by Jiehae Park, directed by Terri McMahon.

Yee is a San Francisco native with degrees from Yale and the University of California at San Diego. Her plays have been presented and/or developed at San Francisco Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre, the Lincoln Center, Second Stage, the Magic Theatre and elsewhere. Her plays have been nominated for several awards, and she is a member of the Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab and a Playwrights’ Center Core writer.

Park’s play “peerless” recently had its world premiere at Yale Repertory. Her work has been developed through Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Old Globe and others. She will be a Hodder fellow at Princeton to work on a new play about place, memory, loss and the Internet.

Women’s Invitational Chair Laura Jacqmin and ANPF host playwright EM Lewis will lead a workshop for playwrights from 10 a.m. to noon today at the Headwaters Building, 84 Fourth St., Ashland, under the auspices of the Dramatists Guild Fund Traveling Masters program.

Visit www.ashlandnewplays.org for details.

ANPF is presenting the event in collaboration with the Kilroys (thekilroys.org).

All three of the plays being presented will have world premiere productions at major theaters in the near future. “Cost of Living” will be produced at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer. “King of Yees” will be produced at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2017. And “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” is part of the 2017 season recently announced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Reach Medford freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.