In a town parched for decent, original, new theater scripts, the folks at Portland Center Stage provide a yearly oasis at which to quench your thirst, if only for a brief moment. The Just Add Water/West (JAW/West) playwriting festival is about the part of theater you never get to witness: the writing of it. It's a chance for four skilled playwrights to share their new works with a live audience via high-quality staged readings, get feedback, and theoretically hone their play-in-progress into something great.
This is exciting because it includes a smattering of opportunities for local scribes. "The Clearing" (Fri 8 pm) is a quirky-sounding evening of short plays inspired by 19th-century Portland history, and written by hometown heroes like Steve Patterson, Matt Zrebski, and Francesca Sanders. Then, on Saturday (2-4 pm), there'll be a "Theater Fair," wherein reps from Portland's many theater companies will congregate to inform the public about their respective agendas; and on Sunday (3-4 pm), an unfortunately short "Playwrights Slam" will commence, letting local writers like Shelly Lipkin and Wade McCollum read excerpts from new work.
And all that's supplemental to the Main Event, a chance to hear and comment on brand new works-in-progress from four major or soon-to-be major voices in American theater. On Saturday, Seattle playwright Jordan Harrison's Prohibition-era "dizzying farce," Act a Lady (4 pm), gets read, as well as Adam Bock's "Kafkaesque" office comedy, The Thugs (8 pm). Sunday (4 pm) finds a presentation of Portland playwright/actor (the only one in the Final Four) Ebbe Roe Smith's family comedy, Number 3. It's followed by a work by Portland Center Stage golden boy Itamar Moses (Outrage), Celebrity Row, which envisions conversations between notorious criminals and one-time cellblock neighbors Timothy McVeigh, Luis Felipe, Ramzi Yusef, and Ted Kaczynski. Not enough attention is paid to the arduous process of making theater better; JAW revels in it.