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2017 Winner of the National Free Speech Play Contest

Nittany Theatre at the Barn-America’s Summer Stock Theatre
2017 National Free Speech Contest
Sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation

PRESS RELEASE, July 4, 2017

(Boalsburg, PA) Nittany Theatre at the Barn is pleased to announce, Dark Night of the Soul by James Armstrong as the winner of the 2017 National Free Speech Contest sponsored by The Charles Koch Foundation. From fifty-one submissions by playwrights throughout the nation, seven finalists were selected with James Armstrong of New York City as the winning playwright.

Dark Night of the Soul will receive a “book-in-hand” reading at Nittany Theatre at the Barn in Boalsburg, PA during Constitution Week, September 20, 2017 and additional readings in The Villages, Florida, October 26 in the Omar Bradley Theatre at the Eisenhower Recreation Center and October 27 in the Lincoln Theatre at the Laurel Manor Recreation Center, 2017.

As it connects to free speech, Dark Night of the Soul tells the familiar story of Joan of Arc, but in an unfamiliar way. Joan is portrayed as having a crisis of faith, unsure of what God wants of her and no longer able to hear the Divine Voice that was once so familiar. She is urged to renounce her former statements and submit to the Church, but when she does so, she finds that life is not tolerable without the ability to speak the truth. In fact, Joan would have been allowed to live if she had only kept her mouth shut and not returned to making statements about her former visions. Her insistence on her right to speak out–no matter what the consequences–makes her a martyr for the universal right of freedom of speech.

Set in the spring of 1431, the play tells the story of a young French peasant girl is locked in a tower in the castle of Rouen. Her name is Joan. Her crime is claiming to hear the voice of God. But the voice is gone now, and Joan is alone. Her king, her people, and her God have all abandoned her. A powerful English noble, Richard, Earl of Warwick, is intent on having her tried, found guilty, and burned at the stake. The bishop presiding over her trial is more concerned with formality than justice. Her only ally seems to be Brother Martin, a young Dominican who desperately wants to save her from the flames. Joan is all too aware, however, that there are some fates worse than death. As she struggles to find the strength she once had, Richard, Martin, and even the bishop surprisingly shift alliances in response to Joan’s quest to find the voice within her.

Dark Night of the Soul was originally developed in a playwrights group at the Abingdon Theatre Company in New York City. The script subsequently had a staged reading by the Lady Cavaliers Theatre Company in Brooklyn. The play was adapted for radio, and aired on WMNF in Tampa as a part of Radio Theatre Project Live.

James Armstrong has had his plays performed by Detroit Repertory Theatre, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, Playwrights Forum, the Epiphany Theater Company, the Abingdon Theatre Company, and The Attic Ensemble. The New York Times hailed his play Foggy Bottom as “one of the most international farces around” and the Detroit Free Press called Capital an “inspired new comedy.” He has written several historical plays on science and technology, including Meucci’s Message, a play commissioned by Sundog Theatre about the Italian-American inventor Antonio Meucci. James wrote the books for the new musicals Ordinary Island and Keep On Walkin’, the latter of which won the Anna Zornio Children’s Theatre Playwriting Award. He earned his MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Seven Finalists of the 2017 Free Speech Contest:

Anything Helps God Bless by Al D’Andrea
Mia Wilson vs. Board of Education by Bill McGrath
Satan Amongst Us by Myla Lichtman-Fields
The Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger by Walt Vail
Holly Goday by Lawrence DuKore
The Degenerates by Germaine Shames
Dark Night of the Soul by James Armstrong

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