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Playwright honored for her work

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Local artist and playwright Marilynn Barner Anselmi poses on Friday at the Bel Air Art Center.

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BY JENNY WHITE
Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Acclaimed Nash County playwright Marilynn Barner Anselmi will travel to New York City this week to be lauded for receiving the prestigious Mario Fratti-Fred Newman political play contest award.

The award is given out biannually and recognizes and encourages the writing of plays that engage political, social and cultural questions affecting the world today.

The play was recognized at the Castillo Theater and was performed via a professional reading on Monday and will have a second show on Aug. 12.

Anselmi’s play, “Mitigating Damages,” is about an attorney and her assistant and their efforts to work with two young women to help them obtain bypass waivers to have abortions without their parents’ consent.

“It’s a look behind the headlines, behind the controversy to how these issues affect real people. I am fascinated by the very real, very human experiences behind issues that are often time generalized or just seen in black and white ways. Being human is messy sometimes — that’s what I Iike to write about,” Anselmi said.

Anselmi said the two main characters in “Mitigating Damages” are Julie, an attorney, and her paralegal, Rhonda, who take on the cases of Enaya — a Palestinian-American concealing her pregnancy from her strict Muslim family — and Taneesha, an African-American who lives with her equally strict grandmother.

While shepherding the two girls through their trial and appeals process, Julie undergoes painful fertility treatments and Rhonda fights to conceal her own past traumas.

Anslemi said the play follows these four women and how they form an unconventional web of support through some of the most difficult times of their lives.

The play was written in 2016 and Anslemi submitted it for consideration for the Fratti-Newman award in 2017.

Anselmi has written about 21 short and full-length plays, beginning in 2009 with the play, “Raising Ricci,” a play she wrote after the death of her college-age son.

“I think it was a way to cope and grieve and was like a gift that came from something really bad,” Anselmi said about discovering her love to write plays.

“I can’t explain it. The story just came to me in play form, and I started writing it down,” she said. “I have been writing plays ever since.”

One of her more recognized plays, “You Wouldn’t Think,” is about the eugenics program in rural North Carolina in the 1960s. The program was created in the 1940s by the N.C. General Assembly. During its existence, about 8,000 people — mostly rural, poor black people — were sterilized. The play is about four of the victims. It’s been performed all over the country, has been made into a short film and was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neil Playwright Conference in 2013.

Anselmi said most of the time after she’s written a play, she hands it over to a director or producer to be brought to life.

“It can be a little like giving your baby away,” Anselmi said. “But playwrighters don’t write stories to be read quietly in your living room — they’re meant to be shared. They’re meant to be interactive, to cause people to ask questions, to rethink something or a new idea.”

Anselmi’s play, “Found Objects” will be produced by Nash Arts Center in Nashville the first and second weekend in September. The play is about a mother and daughter seeking closure after the accidental death of their son and brother.

Anselmi said she’s humbled and thankful for all the artists she’s gotten to work with to bring her plays to stages — in Nash county and all over the country.

“Writing fulfills me,” Anselmi said. “It’s my purpose and provided a lifeline in some dark days. Whether I win awards or not, writing and developing these characters and their stories is something I love to do.”