New Yorker Rob Urbinati is a gifted playwright, an experienced director and handles new play development for Queens Theatre in the Park in New York City. So what is he doing here in Houston? Struck by his talent after producing his play West Moon Street to acclaim two years ago, Houston Family Arts Center (HFAC) commissioned Urbinati to write another. The new play, Death by Design, is a Noel Coward-esque comedy, with a murder to boot, as eight characters - a mixture of classes and masses, aristocrats and bohemians and of course the downstairs domestic help - converge on an English country house in the distant year of 1931. The play will be produced in September, but a reading will be presented tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:30 p.m. at HFAC.
HFAC scheduled a seminar on play writing on Saturday, May 7, to coincide with Urbinati's Houston visit for the reading, and its success was evident from the keen questions and enthusiastic response from both experienced and neophyte playwrights in attendance. Despite having his PhD in theater, Urbinati is the opposite of an academic, and his genial and humorous personality helped in clarifying some of the opportunities and pitfalls of playwriting. His message to the master class was clear and succinct: "Get to the computer or typewriter and just look at the blank page," he said. "Don't wait for inspiration."
Urbinati had an unusual beginning for a playwright, coming to it late after being established as a director. "I had no interest in writing, but I was reviewing some notes two teenage murderesses had written to each other, and I realized that I heard their voices and had a sense of who they were and how they would behave - and that was how I got started writing. I already knew how to shape a scene and how to build an effect from directing," he said.
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The Houston Family Arts Center is at 10760 Grant Road, and reservations are at 281-685-6374. For more information, visit www.houstonfac.com.