The beginning of fall is especially busy for out playwright Susan Sneeringer, as the Reading Community Players are presenting two of her plays as workshop productions through Oct. 4.
The company and Reading itself are no strangers to Sneeringer’s work. She has directed numerous productions for Reading Community Players over the years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in theater arts from Penn State University and is a two-time recipient of grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her one-act play, “Grave Concerns,” set in the Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading, was published in 2006’s “The Best of the Strawberry One-Act Festival: Volume III.”
The most personal of the two upcoming productions is “Purgatory,” the story of a woman’s journey from early childhood through her adult years examining her relationship with her father and the Catholic Church.
“It’s really about learning to live out from under the shadow of my dad a bit and reconcile my sexuality, growing up Catholic and trying to find my own spirituality as it were,” she said. “‘Purgatory’ is my story.”
“Purgatory’s” original one-act form was awarded the 1993 Pennsylvania Medical Drama Prize, sponsored by Penn State University’s College of Medicine. Sneeringer said she has been rewriting and expanding it on and off since then.
“My father died in 1993 and it was one-act then,” she said. “It received a staged reading after that. Then I put it away for a while because somebody suggested that it be a two-act play. I thought the second act is sort of life after dad so I just let it sit a while. I pulled it out again in early 2003 for a writing competition and it evolved from there into two acts. We did a staged reading of that at the Lehigh Valley Pride in 2004. Then I put it away again and I knew this production was going to happen a year ago. That’s when we started to work on it in earnest again.”
Sneeringer added that, while she still considers it a work in progress, this production of “Purgatory” the most fully realized version of the play she has done.
“This is the first full-production ‘Purgatory’ with all the lights, bells and whistles,” she said. “It’s a essentially a premiere of it in full production. We’re still working on the script but it’s 90-percent there.”
The other production, “Blonde Bombshell,” may not be as personal to Sneeringer or have gay characters, but she is every bit as passionate about the subject matter. The one-act play explores the emotional price a 1950s actress pays when she fights the studio system and is blacklisted.
“It’s a multi-generational story: a mother, daughter and a granddaughter,” Sneeringer said. “The mother was blacklisted in the 1950s for labor activism and it’s about the fallout from that on her family. I’ve always wanted to write about the blacklist and its consequences. Censorship of any kind is anathema to me personally, especially as a writer. When this idea came to me, it came in the form of an obituary in the Philadelphia Daily News of an actress named Karen Marlow. She was an early MGM contract player who got into trouble for objecting to just being one of the stable. She wanted to have a baby and they told her it was not allowed under her contract terms. She openly defied them before anybody defied the studios. That inspired me to come up with the story. It’s not her life; she was just the inspiration.”
Catch one or both of these productions while you can. Sneeringer, who is currently helping her partner through some health issues, said she doesn’t have any other projects in the works.
“This is it for right now,” she said. “I’m helping my partner get through chemotherapy right now. So I have a lot of personal demands that are part of my schedule. It’s a pretty intense juggling act right now.”
Reading Company Players perform “Purgatory” at 8 p.m. Sept. 25, 26 and Oct. 3, and 3 p.m. Oct. 4, and “Blonde Bombshell” at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 and 8 p.m. Oct. 2, at Reading Community Theatre, 403 N. 11th St., Reading. For more information or tickets, call (610) 375-9106.