Correction: This story previously misspelled the name of playwright Mariah MacCarthy, and incorrectly identified her as a local playwright. She lives in New York.

Rehearsal for the play ‘Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea.’ Stanley Andrew Jackson III and Kathleen Cole Burke. (Jenny McConnell Frederick/Jenny McConnell Frederick)

Three is the magic number behind this year’s Source Festival, an annual incubator for new theatrical work by emerging playwrights from across the country.

To begin with, there are three themes: revenge, quests and mortality. Then, three programs for each of those themes — full-length plays, 10-minute plays and what the festival calls “artistic blind dates,” work created by artists who have been matched up by organizers. In all, there are nine shows. You could schedule out your festival experience like a game of tic-tac-toe.

“We wanted to be able to create more intentional groupings of the plays,” says Jenny McConnell Frederick, the festival’s artistic director. “The thing I hope audiences pick up on is the tightness of the themes.”

A new style of programming for this year’s festival, those themes were selected based on the three full-length plays that were accepted to the festival, out of more than 120 submitted scripts. Then Frederick put out a call for 10-minute plays that fit the three categories, ultimately selecting 18 (presented in groups of six within each theme). And as is the festival’s longtime tradition, nine artists were matched up for the blind dates, giving each team a chance to create three works based on the themes. The blind dates are less traditional theatrical experiences, incorporating dance and performance art as well.

All of the plays, Frederick says, share a sense of humanity. “Mortality is something that’s part of the human experience, and a quest is what drives you to find something, to accomplish something in your time on Earth,” she says. “And revenge is what happens when something gets in your way.”

Adds Frederick: “I’m always drawn to plays that have the capacity to surprise an audience.”

Here are a few highlights:


In the full-length “A Bid to Save the World,” by San Francisco playwright Erin Bregman, people no longer experience death, but study it like a piece of history. The artistic blind date in the mortality category, “Facebook in Memoriam” by Elizabeth Dinkova, Rachel Hynes and Jennifer Restak, is a good parallel, examining the digital records of lives left behind. The topic of mortality, Frederick says, received more submissions than any other theme.

But back in the realm of the 10-minute plays, death is alive and heartbreakingly real. In local playwright Stephen Spotswood’s “Dressing Bobby Strong,” a new funeral director’s assistant must prepare the body of her first love. And in “Painted,” by Mariah MacCarthy, a woman must make peace with her dying mother.


Nathan Alan Davis’s “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea” is about a young man who ventures into the Atlantic Ocean to follow the course of a relative lost in the Middle Passage. And memories of the past are the springboard for the artistic blind date “We Forget, We Never Forget,” by Layne Garrett, Rick Westerkamp and Jessica Solomon, a “ritual investigation” of things forgotten.

The quests of the 10-minute plays, however, take audiences on journeys for a special recipe (Benjamin Marshall’s “Corn Bread With Raisins and Almonds”), a magical genie (“The Reluctant Genie of Niamey,” by local playwright Marine Gassier) and even a visit to Abraham Lincoln’s house (Philip Kaplan’s “Local Pilgrimage”).


Steve Yockey’s play “Pluto,” produced by Forum Theatre earlier this year, is about a mother and a son dealing with a school shooting. His Source Festival play, “The Thrush & the Woodpecker,” is another tale of a troubled young man and his mother. The son has been expelled from school and is living at home when a mysterious woman shows up with secrets to share.

In “Countdown,” the artistic blind date play by Meredith Bove, Swedian Lie and Raymond Weilacher, artists must construct a device that is part gift and part curse. In the 10-minute revenge plays, A.K. Forbes’s “Collateral Damage and Other Cosmic Consequences” is about a woman seeking vengeance against an oppressive alien race, while John Kelly’s “We Are Not Animals” is about an operator of American military drones who is taken prisoner.

Source Festival

Friday through June 29 at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW. 202-315-1305. $10-$20.