Speaking of love in Madison

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The Love That Changed My Life

Forward Theater Co.’s monologue festival is Feb. 11-12 in Promenade Hall at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts. Go to www.forwardtheater.com

Just in time to help lovers of all persuasions celebrate St. Valentines Day, Madison’s Forward Theater Co. presents “The Love that Changed My Life,” a monologue festival featuring short works by playwrights from Wisconsin and across the nation. The individual readings take place in Promenade Hall at Overture Center for the Arts Feb. 11- 12.

The call for material attracted local works, as well as monologues from Australia, Canada and Israel, according to Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Forward’s artistic director. The final roster includes work from writers in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Seattle, Santa Fe and Amherst, Mass. Well-known dramatists on the playlist include Christopher Durang (“Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them”), Beth Henley (“Crimes of the Heart”) and Constance Congdon (“Tales of the Lost Formicans”).

Forward established guidelines that limited scripts to 10 minutes, one actor and no elaborate sets, costumes or props. “Submissions had to be inspired by the title ‘The Love that Changed My Life,’ and we got lots of variations on that theme,” Gray says.

The performance list features 15 monologues from 12 writers, whose subjects run the gamut of love. Themes include love between parents and children to love of snack food, yoga, music and animals. There are works about men who love men, men who love women, women who are struggling to love their own bodies, men and women analyzing a break-up, facing the end of a relationship and contemplating the beginning of a new one.

The monologue festival also includes “An Evening with Jon Jones,” a gay-themed monologue written by the late David Schanker. A straight Madison playwright and the former clerk for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Schanker worked with Forward Theater last year on a staged reading of his award-winning play “Kiritsis.” He was 55 when he died July 5, 2010, from complications following a heart transplant. The monologue festival is dedicated to Schanker’s memory.

“David wrote a really lovely monologue about gay men who have been in a relationship for a long time,” Gray says. “One is a painter and one’s a performer, and for the first time, the painter is painting a portrait of his partner and they are reflecting on their relationship. It’s quite extraordinary.”

Madison playwright Kimberley Yarnall, who helped develop the monologue festival, has two works in the lineup – “The Nuts that Changed My Life” and “I am the Tree.” The former, based on her family experiences, chronicles the expression of love between generations characterized by the sharing of nuts and legumes, specifically peanuts, cashews and warm, spicy mixed nuts.

“The second play is about a woman who falls in love with yoga, and through that physical and spiritual experience learns a bit about loving her husband, her friends, and herself,” Yarnall says. “It’s inspired both by my yoga practice and two friends of mine who generate an incredible positive love for the world through their physicality.”

The depth and variety of the works explores the concept of love from multiple angles in multiple settings, while allowing new playwrights to mix their work with veterans and gain much needed exposure. In addition to opening the door wider on a familiar concept, Forward Theater’s monologue festival broadens the company’s reach and gives new talent a public voice, Yarnall says.

“‘The Love That Changed My Life’ theme really allowed writers to dig deep and explore all types of love and all types of outcomes,” Yarnall says. “For me, the heart of equality is respecting love at its very core – the feeling, the passion, the physical, emotional and mental states. I hope people leave these performances loving love of all kinds.”

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