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Luna Stage: New Moon Reading Series

I went to the Luna Stage out in Montclair, New Jersey to hear a play reading, “Puddin”” by Tia Dionne Hodge, a young, gifted playwright from Cleveland, Ohio who lives in Montclair, “the Park Slope of the suburbs,” according to New York Magazine except that 32% of the population is African American. In other words it’s a vibrant, multi-ethnic, economically mixed, artist’s enclave just forty minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel. As elsewhere, developers are lurking and driving the young artists out. Luna Stage, a spacious black-box theater, has lost their lease and will be moving four miles down the road to West Orange soon. It’s a loss for the community. “Puddin” will be one of their last readings in the Montclair space.

Play readings can be either boring or stimulating depending on the quality of the work, the skill of the actors, and the direction. Actors are thrilled to be asked to readings between gigs to keep their acting muscle supple and often a famous actor is present, to the delight of the audience. Tia lucked out with all the actors but especially with the four leads, all seasoned, including Frankie Faison in the role of Delroy Hudson. Recently, he appeared as Ervin Burrell on the HBO series, “The Wire.” I am sure he was challenged by the complexity of the role Tia has written. The play is rich and powerful.

A reading is much like a writing workshop. The author gets to hear her work come to life as the actors perform and can watch the audience react. Playwrights may have several readings before the script is considered finished, up to and including changes made during rehearsal and previews. In other words, they revise continuously. As Tia is transforming “Puddin,” from a one-act play into a full-length drama—it will be part of a trilogy—she had questions for the audience about the plot and the characters. In a feedback session after the reading, the director of the theater asked the questions as Tia remained in The Glass Box taking notes.

Tia also writes poems and short stories so it surprised me at first that she had decided to tell this particular story using the dramatic form. But then I thought of Eugene O'Neill, Tennesse Williams and August Wilson. Tia is in good company, or they are.

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