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Much of Annie Mae’s message is about the difficulty and trauma associated with unplanned pregnancy, child care, and single parenthood: “I was born into a family that owned their own farmland. And my grandfather wanted me to be a nurse. I seen a man I wanted when I was 15, and now I don’t have neither one of ’em, the education or the man. All I got is a bunch of children. Now I love ’em, don’t get me wrong, one of the best things a woman can be is a mother. But when the actress sings, ‘I ain’t got nothing but my name,’ sometimes I don’t know if I’ve got even that.’ ” CARRIER SAYS that the musical is “still a work in progress.” As it progresses, she would like it to relate how many blacks like Annie Mae’s grandparents became landowners as a result of a master or his son raping slave women, then providing them parcels of land to support their illegitimate children. And, in part because black female writers are criticized for insensitivity to the black male experience in America, Carrier would like to further emphasize Annie Mae’s positive relationship with her last husband. “I think women develop different attitudes toward men as they grow older,” Carrier said. She will probably explore those attitudes in future productions of “I am Annie Mae.” Reenactments of the pivotal events in her own life are pure emotional dreams for the octogenarian. “When I’m near this play, I’m on cloud nine,” she confides. “When I get home, I can’t, hardly get off of it. I dream about it. I wake up clapping my hands sometimes, wake up laughing, wake up crying sometimes. When I seen those children sleeping on the porch, waiting just like mine used to, it was so real I just had to cry, cause that’s the way it was, and it’s A Playwrights’ Forum Houston EACH YEAR SINCE 1982 Art Swindley and company, of Stages Repertory Theatre, have raised the standards of Houston’s theatrical scene with a weekend Texas Playwrights Festival. This year Stages chose as its festival centerpiece, “I am Annie Mae,” by Ruthe Winegarten and Naomi Carrier. Some of the strongest voices in Texas helped make a hit of the work best described as a down-home dramatic musical spiced with the lively motherwit of a black Texas domestic, single mother, small businesswoman, and grassroots politico. Stages also featured two productions from its own repertoire: “I Married an Ignoramus” by Suzanne Chesshire \(the title of the featured vignette from the collaborative “Other Short Portraits by A Million Laughs,” a peculiarly 1980s collection of comedy, drama, and song written and by Stages’ resident comedienne Marianne Pendino. “Portraits” is loosely strung together by a ditsy but diligent bride-to-be who introduces each of ten women’s portraits with a different wedding dress from KMart, a shower gift from the woman to be portrayed, and a top-40 song. Particularly memorable portraits are “Cudzoo” by Jo Carol Pierce, in which a Texas activist explains her planting of killer plants from Georgia as a form of protest against a law prohibiting more than one garage sale to a block; and “Speak Your Mind,” Suzanne Chesshire’s story of a pregnant woman who made love to a transvestite who sees visions angels in the field. Despite the success of these polished dramatic productions, the soul of the Texas Playwrights Festival continues to be readings of new, previously unproduced plays. In past years new works by authors like Horton Foote, Rosellen Brown, and Raymond Carver have been read and critiqued during the festival. This year’s lineup proved as potent and close to the blade as any new plays could hope to be. “Sweetwater,” a comedy by Gene Fowler, explores the absurdities of a Texas town which sponsors an annual rattlesnake roundup, and the town’s conflict with the environmentalists who try to stop the annual affair. The play’s emphasis on familial relationships adds metaphorical venom to the plot. Christopher Wood’s “Fire” slowly removes layers of gauze bandages from three lives scarred by domestic fires of lust and rage. And “Dante Under the River Palm,” written by Stages Associate Artistic Director Joe Turner Cantu, is a poignant story of a Mexican-American family from the Rio Grande Valley. Unrevealed and unaccepted homosexuality, child abuse, alcoholism, machismo, and unplanned pregnancy complicate the characters’ lives in a play that discourages rather than reinforces stereotypes. Each play was blocked by a director and read by actors who held scripts in hand, but were nonetheless familiar with the works. A comment period, advanced along by veteran Texas playwright Jack Heifner, critic and Backstage columnist Francesca Primus, and artistic director of Dallas’s Moving Target Regional Theatre, Mark Torres, followed the readings. Like the featured production, “I am Annie Mae,” which Swindley saw at a 1987 Austin performance, scripts for the festival are solicited. And though there is no requirement that plays be set in Texas, or adhere to traditional Texas themes, the festival has become a celebration of indigenous talent. Swindley perceives the festival as a way to “say something about Texas and the uniqueness of Texas talent. “It’s become” he said, “a forum for the development of Texas writers.” “I am Annie Mae” composer and lyricist Naomi Carrier agrees. “I think Texas is much more visible now. People are beginning to recognize that there are serious artists here. I don’t care where you live in the universe you have to exploit opportunities, and Stages didn’t produce our play because we were black or women. They liked it because it’s a good play. Swindley offered his observations on the same theme: “I feel that minority voices are imbued with such a sense of passion, the conflicts are so intense, that they make good theatre. I don’t chose a minority play simply because it’s involves Blacks, Hispanics, women, or gays. My first criteria is quality. Is it well-written? Well-crafted and artistic? Just as in a tapestry you want to weave different colors, a season shouldn’t just be looking at one blond weave.” As Artistic Director of Stages, Ted Swindley read and considered a hundred scripts for the festival this year. “What’s the point of simply re-creating Broadway hits?” Swindley asked. “Our philosophy is that in four full productions and workshops, it’s not important that everything in the festival be a great success for you to come up with some idea of what the theatre is attempting to do,” he said. “Since a first reading is an excellent time to share impressions, it’s also a natural time to bring people from outside to offer their perspectives.” As a result of Stages’ commitment, new plays originally read at the festival have been published or produced. The list of writers who have been helped by the festival continues to grow. And the festival has earned a national reputation as similar festivals are being considered in other U.S. cities. Because artistic directors and producers are constantly looking for “new product,” Swindley has no doubts that the Texas Playwrights Festival will continue to grow and attract more writers to the state. R.A. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17 ,14,-56.1.,”1