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Playwrights series updated

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The Utah Shakespearean Festival has made a couple of changes in its long-running "Plays in Progress" program. One is a different name — the New American Playwrights Project.

And, beginning with this season, there will be a $5 charge at the door to help defray the costs of continuing the project. (Previously, volunteer donations of any amount were accepted.)

Charles L. Metten is director of the playwrights series.

This month, there will be staged readings of three new plays, which were selected for their focus on the Western experience, spirit and heritage or for their classic themes.

As in past years, each play will be read twice during three rotating weeks, then all three will have their final readings on Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

"Opaline," by Mary Fengar Gail of Irvine, Calif., is set in a secluded English wood, the site of the charred body of a woman who may have consumed vast amounts of absinthe. An investigation leads to a secret distillery that produces a highly addictive brew that results in dangerous deliriums.

Directed by Aaron Galligan-Stierle, an actor in the festival's 2006 performance company, "Opaline" will be read on Thursday and Friday of this week and again on Aug. 30.

"Nemo 1934," by Debora Threedy of Salt Lake City, who has long been associated with such local groups as TheatreWorks West, is based on the disappearance of artist-writer Everett Ruess in 1934 in the rugged canyons of southwestern Utah. Ruess went into the area to explore and paint for a couple of months, never to be seen or heard from again.

Threedy's play, directed by Robert Gerard Anderson, focuses on the legend that still surrounds his life and supposed death, and how it affected those he left behind. Readings will be Aug. 17, 18 and 31.

"The Moor Lark," by Jan Henson Dow of Bluffton, S.C., and directed by Metten, is set in the isolated village of Haworth, where the Bronte sisters — Charlotte, Emily and Anne — create their imaginative writings while their distraught brother, Branwell, turns to alcohol and opium to numb the jealousy of his sisters' growing fame as novelists and poets.

Performances will be Aug. 24-25 and Sept. 1. All readings are 10:15 a.m.

Audience feedback during the first two readings is often incorporated into the plays by the authors prior to the final readings.

E-mail: ivan@desnews.com