Playwright Martyna Majok brings work-in-progress to Vermont

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DORSET >> Poland-born and New Jersey-raised playwright Martyna Majok wants to give presence on the stage to the people she rarely sees there — a woman paralyzed from the neck down and a man with cystic fibrosis — and their relationships with their caretakers.

"I was interested in seeing characters with disabilities that aren't pitied, that have a sexuality, that have darkness to them, that aren't just these magical characters that come in and solve the able-bodied people's problems," Majok said. "And sad kid characters."

Majok, who recently earned the David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize for "Ironbound," will bring an in-process and as-yet-untitled play for a workshop and reading at the Dorset Theatre Festival's New Play Reading Series on Monday, June 22.

"I worked at Dorset a couple summers, and I've been telling Martyna how great it is," said New York City director Adrienne Campbell-Holt, founding artistic director of Colt Coeur, a Brooklyn-based theatre company, who will direct the reading. "The festival has been so supportive of new plays and thinks it's exciting to bring diversity to Dorset."

She and Majok had been looking for a good collaboration opportunity, she said, and this script-in-progress intrigued her.

Majok has begun her new work by creating backgrounds for the characters, and she will share an early version of a script she expects to see evolve, she said. She needed to get the characters down before concentrating on the plot.

Some of the new work comes from an earlier work of hers, "John, Who's Here From Cambridge," now performed at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City. She wrote it, she said, because she kept hearing the same concerns from many actors she knows who have disabilities.

"They feel like there aren't roles written for them that have much depth beyond them being a person who has a disability," she said. "They feel like they're not acknowledged, and they don't get to be a character beyond the physical limitations they have. So I started writing 'John, Who's Here from Cambridge.'"

In the original play and this expanded version she has found a challenge in creating characters that hit the right mark in the focus on their disability — and she has a number of friends who are actors and disabled people to serve as consultants in the work and to help her achieve that.

"I hope everyone thinks, it's this character who just happens to have cerebral palsy, or this character who happens to be paralyzed, but their circumstances are still part of the narrative," she said. "[Their circumstances] are not ignored, but they're not just about how to move around the world."

She has also drawn from her own experience as a caregiver for a man with cerebral palsy and her relationship and rapport with him.

"I feel like I learned about humor from my work as a personal caregiver," Majok said. "So whereas I came into not knowing any people with a disability and I was very careful, very wary of condescending, and that kind of awkwardness ended up being an interesting tension between me and the person I worked for, who would just make fun of how awkward I felt. A lot of it was the way this guy used humor with me, and I have pulled his humor."

Majok's plays tend to place people on stage who often have not appeared as lead characters.

"I tend to write about working class people and women that have desire and appetite and fury," she said, "and all these things that a lot of plays that I read when I was learning about playwriting didn't really have. I try to do so with humor. Not 'making fun of' humor, but humor that comes from pain, that comes from who you are in the world."

Majok's work also often focuses on immigrants, in some ways pulling from her own family's experience.

"I wasn't born in this country, and I grew up super poor," she said, "so I'm trying to put those characters on stage in ways that don't just make them noble — We have these tropes of the sage janitor, and I feel that's a disservice to getting to know anybody who also happens to be just x, y or z — poor, a woman, disabled, an immigrant, old. I think that's a way of distancing and not getting to know that person, unless you see the ugly and beautiful about them."

She has a busy year ahead of her. Along with the time in Dorset, she will head to a residency to work on a gypsy-punk, slavic folk musical about Chernobyl and the people still living there. Next year, will she will have support from the prestigious Playwrights of New York PONY grant, which includes a residency for early career, up and coming playwrights. She will also begin attending the Julliard School.

"Martyna's very modest, but she's having a major moment in New York right now," said Campbell-Holt. "The Dorset crowd should check her out while they can."

On stage

What: Reading of a play by Martyna Marjok

When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 22

Where: Marble House Project Event Barn, 1161 Dorset West Road, Dorset

Admission: Adult $15, Youth 12 and under $8

Info: 802-867-2223, dorsettheatrefestival.org


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