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Jewish playwright debuts at Fringe Festival

It’s Mark Katzman’s first time at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, but he’s not attending as part of the audience. He’s the author of one of the 168 acts.

The play is called “Crisscross” and delves into the complicated relationship and love triangle among a woman and two men.

“It’s really about the way their lives and relationships crisscross and the little things they say to each other crisscross to their other relationships. Not only are the two men friends but the woman ends up being involved with both of them,” Katzman said.
Katzman said the play is not appropriate for younger children but that adults and teenagers might appreciate it.

The Fringe will be the play’s debut, although Katzman saw “Crisscross” performed as a staged reading in 2006 at the Downeast Arts Center in New York City while he was a playwright in residence there.

“It’s very heartening to have actors bring the words to life. The writer is very isolated … they bring things that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. Actors really bring in energy and emotion and nuance that might be there in the page but (doesn’t show) until someone embodies it,” Katzman said.

Originally from Kansas City, Katzman now lives in Vermillion, S.D., with his partner, Sara Henning. Although he has written art books before, playwriting is a different experience for Katzman — not one for the faint of heart, he says.

“If it’s not a passion, it’s really better to stay away. It’s not for everyone. If you have that writing spark, it’s something you’ll do forever,” he said.

Last year, Katzman attended United States Fringe Festival Conference in Minneapolis, where he met the KC Fringe Festival’s executive director, Cheryl Kimmi.

“In visiting with him I could tell he is a writer with original thoughts who’s not afraid to challenge and push the traditional norms,” Kimmi said. “We encourage people to put thought-provoking material out there. It’s much more than entertainment; the arts can be a catalyst for change.”

Katzman is excited to return to his hometown.

“It seemed like a great opportunity, not just to see my family but to start to enter the Kansas City theater life. There really is quite a vibrant scene in Kansas City,” Katzman said.

Katzman said his play uses language in unusual ways, making veiled references to issues but not spelling them out.

“My roots are in Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, so there are humorous uses of pauses and silence to get certain emotional feelings across. There is a story, so you can follow the story, but it sometimes doesn’t go in an exact linear way,” he said.
He got the idea for the play from observing everyday conversations among the people around him.

While it’s Katzman’s first time seeing one of his plays performed on stage, he has another first to celebrate as well — his directorial debut.

“I have certain ideas I want to get across in certain rhythms and gestures. I like to have the idea of improv in there as well. I don’t think two shows will ever exactly be alike,” he said.

The Fringe Festival is not like other venues. All the plays at the festival, which is unjuried, run 60 minutes unless otherwise noted, and set changes can only take 10 minutes. Last year, the festival attracted about 15,500 attendees.

Three local actors, Sarah Pinzl, Sam Cordes and Kyle Dyck, will perform the show.

“I think this affords them a chance to do alternative theater. It’s not the typical production for a dinner theater or anything like that. At the Fringe Festival, you will have a gathering of a wild variety of entertainments; that’s what I think is exciting to people who understand fringe concepts,” Katzman said.

Other acts at the festival will include Here Be Zombies!, Kansas City Magic Cabaret and Surrender Dorothy.

Fun at the Fringe

All Fringe Festival attendees must purchase a festival badge for $5. Play tickets are separate; buy “Crisscross” tickets for $5 by calling 816-359-9195. Performances of “Crisscross” are at 11 p.m. July 21, 3:30 p.m. July 22 and July 26, and 8 p.m. July 28 at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main in Kansas City, Mo. The festival runs July 19 to 29. There will be a free opening night party at 6:30 p.m. July 19 at the KC Rep's Spencer Theatre.