Festival to stage five premieres in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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Ed Herendeen came to Pittsburgh May 9 to talk about his baby of the past 24 years, the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

He traversed the 190 miles from there to here to join playwright Tammy Ryan for a sit-down chat on the Bricolage Theater stage and field questions from members of the Dramatists Guild's local chapter. He also took the opportunity, more than once, to remind folks to come on down to the festival, which this summer runs July 11-Aug. 3.

"There's probably nothing I like better than making theater, and the second thing would be talking about the theater that we make and sharing my passion for new American theater," he said.

The five-play season of new works runs in repertory, with actors often playing roles in more than one show and patrons able to see all five plays in any two-day period. There is a strategic plan in place to add a sixth play soon, Mr. Herendeen said.

The festival is headquartered at Shepherd University in the picturesque town that boasts pre-Civil War buildings alongside a hip coffee culture, plus a stop on the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail and a view along the Potomac River. It's an hour from D.C., about 90 minutes from Baltimore and three to 31/2 hours from Pittsburgh.

If you go

Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

When: July 11-Aug. 3.

Locale: Shepherd University, which provides the stages and support for the CATF plays, is in Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia. The center of town is German Street, where you will find a dozen fine dining and casual restaurants, locally owned shops and an independent movie theater.

Lodging: As you cross the Potomac from Maryland to enter Shepherdstown, you are greeted by the Bavarian Inn (www.bavarianinnwv.com), built in the Alpine tradition and with 72 rooms that feature gas fireplaces and whirlpool baths among their amenities. Other convenient choices include the Thomas Shepherd Inn Bed & Breakfast (www.thomasshepherdinn.com), built in 1863, and the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center (www.clarionshepherdstown.com). For more, visit www.shepherdstownvisitorscenter.com.

Admission: Single tickets: $59; $53 for 65 and older; $30 for age 30 and younger and for Sundays at 6 and 6:30 p.m.; $20 student rush with ID (discounts also available for West Virginia residents and military personnel and their families). Passes: Five shows (four plus "Uncanny Valley" in the festival's most intimate space), $240; $215 (65+); four shows, $190; $170; Sundays-only four-show pass: $100. catf.org.

Tickets: 1-800-999-CATF or 1-304-876-3473.

The bulk of patrons come from the D.C. metro area, but the festival last year attracted theatergoers from 37 states and international visitors as well.

Shepherdstown's Civil War past can be experienced with a self-guided walking tour by the Historic Commission (http://historicshepherdstown.com/walking_tour/). Other attractions include this weekend's second annual GardenFest that ends today and features the Back Alley Garden Tour & Tea, a self-guided walking tour of more than a dozen gardens rarely open to the public and an elegant afternoon tea.

The 2014 season of new plays at CATF:

• "The Ashes Under Gait City," a world premiere by Christina Anderson -- When fictional Gait City is destroyed by fire and the community decides to rebuild, a popular Internet guru launches a campaign to encourage black Americans to settle there and reclaim their roots. Inspired by 19th-century exclusionary laws, the play delves into ownership, identity and faith.

• "One Night" by Charles Fuller -- Mr. Fuller is a Pulitzer Prize winner for "A Soldier's Play," which became the Oscar-nominated movie "A Soldier's Story." In "One Night," two Iraq War veterans burdened with secrets arrive at a seedy motel looking for a place to hide and start over. Raging against the sexual abuse in the armed services, this play asks: "Why am I a hero if I die, and a nuisance if I live?"

• "Uncanny Valley," a National New Play Network rolling world premiere by Thomas Gibbons -- The relationship between the creator and the created is explored as Claire, a neuroscientist, works with Julian, an artificial being, on becoming human.

• "North of the Boulevard" by Bruce Graham -- The screenwriter of "Dunston Checks In," "Anastasia" and "Steal This Movie" takes on issues of class and ethics in a play about friends in a crumbling auto-repair shop who confront the vanishing middle class around them. When a questionable opportunity arises, they are put to the test: Will they give in to the corruption that's ruining their neighborhood?

• "Dead and Breathing," a world premiere by Chisa Hutchinson -- Carolyn is dying and she's cranky, unleashing venom at caregivers and hoping for help to "just get it over with" when she meets her match. The dark comedy explores mortality and morality while testing the boundaries of faith and forgiveness, prejudice and pridefulness.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.

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