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Playwright/performer Clay McLeod Chapman brings maturity to unsettling "duct-tape to family-time." 

Feats of Clay

If the work of Clay McLeod Chapman seems remarkably mature given his age (21), it is probably because the playwright/performer has almost a decade of theater experience under his belt. When he was in sixth grade, a play of Chapman's was selected for development by the New Voices for the Theatre program at TheatreVirginia. "I was barely out of Underoos at the time, and there I was, the only middle-schooler with all these people from high school," Chapman says. "It was like something went click in my head. I owe that program my life."

Chapman has been developing his dramatic voice ever since and brings his latest work, "duct-tape to family-time" to the Shockoe Bottom Arts Center this weekend. Chapman has teamed up with visual artist Jennifer Terrell for this unsettling combination of sculpture and theater. The story centers around two lovers, 15-year-old Lori (played by Alissa Ogurchak) and 27-year-old Walter (Chapman), who resort to kidnapping in an attempt to win over Lori's disapproving parents. Inspired in part by the murders of James and Kathy Wiseman in 1990, the play is "Romeo and Juliet gone askew," explains Chapman, who wrote the work to explore "a love so overpowering that it warps their perception of reality."

While the subject matter alone may be challenging, Chapman ups the ante by exploring an inventive new format. The play is actually two different monologues performed simultaneously, each to half of the audience. "People will be able to overhear the other monologue like it's happening down the hall," says Chapman. "It has a haunted house feel."

Chapman returns to Sara Lawrence College in New York to complete his undergraduate work this fall, but not before coming back full circle on one part of his life. TheatreVirginia's New Voices program has asked him to participate in this summer's competition, this time as a teacher instead of a as a student.

"duct-tape to family-time" plays at Shockoe Bottom Arts Center at 8 p.m., July 9-10. Tickets are $3. Call 272-1856 for
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