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Mixed signals; Playwright, Alleyway disagree on edits of new production

Today, as the Alleyway Theatre prepares to open its production of "Cut-Ups," playwright Kerry Muir sits at home in central Mexico, wondering just what has happened to her play.

Because of some combination of miscommunication, misunderstanding and mislaid plans, Muir -- the most recent winner of Alleyway's annual Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition -- claims that the theater has all but stripped away the essence of the piece.

The play was written as a nonlinear, surrealistic fantasy involving Buster Keaton and the imaginings of a traumatized 11-year-old girl, which Muir claims the theater has substantially modified into a somewhat more traditional narrative drama.

But Alleyway Theatre founder and director Neal Radice said Muir's eleventh-hour objections come as a surprise, as the playwright signed off on the theater's changes weeks ago only to renege on that decision when the actors already had developed their characters and learned their lines.

"She has for weeks had a copy of all of our suggested edits and she approved them, so the cast has proceeded to memorize the show and the director has proceeded to construct the show around all those changes that were approved," Radice said. He added that he agreed to incorporate some of Muir's many requested changes but wasn't able to let the play wright know exactly which, given the challenges of incorporating major changes so close to opening night.

Radice stressed that back-and-forth edits between Alleyway staff and playwrights are always part of the process at the theater, though not usually so fraught.

Muir, who acknowledged that she originally signed off on the changes and later requested extensive updates to the script, expressed disappointment in the creative process.

"I thought there would be more of a collaborative process," Muir said. "I thought that there would be more back-and-forth as opposed to, 'This is our rewrite and we're steamrolling you,' which is how it started to feel."

Radice, who says the Alleyway has only encountered such a problem once in its 30 years of producing new American plays, stressed that playwrights who are new to the game are often unaware of the ins and outs of getting a play on its feet. He added that Muir often took more than a week to respond to emails, a communication lag the playwright admitted was a problem.

"I think that the biggest problem might be that the playwright might not have much of a background [in theater]," Radice said. "Even the script on the page indicates that this might be the playwright's first play. I'm assuming it is."

Muir, a writer and former acting teacher at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York City who counts Scarlett Johansson among her former students, wrote the children's play "Befriending Bertha" and edited "Childsplay," a compilation of monologues and scenes for children.

At press time, "Cut-Ups," starring Jacquie Thomas, Jasmine Ramos, David C. Mitchell and Sheila Connors and directed by Kim Piazza, was slated to go ahead in its edited form.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

"Cut-Ups"    

WHEN: Opens Thursday through Feb. 18    

WHERE: Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley    

TICKETS: $25 general, $13 students    

INFO: 852-2600, www.alleyway.com