Bold and complex: ‘Oxytocin’ wins Dayton Playhouse FutureFest of new plays

Playwright Cary Simowitz of Clayton, Missouri received top honors at the 2021 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest for his play "All the Oxytocin in Your Fingertips." CONTRIBUTED
Playwright Cary Simowitz of Clayton, Missouri received top honors at the 2021 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest for his play "All the Oxytocin in Your Fingertips." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“I’m just so grateful to everyone at the Dayton Playhouse for taking a chance on a theatrically complicated, risky play,” playwright Cary Simowitz said.

Clayton, Missouri playwright Cary Simowitz’s bold, complex, vibrant, and thought-provoking coming-of-age dramedy “All the Oxytocin in Your Fingertips” received top honors at the Dayton Playhouse FutureFest, held virtually July 16-18.

One of the most unique and progressive scripts to win in the festival’s 30-year history, “Oxytocin” tells the compelling story of Cal, a deaf individual raised in a dysfunctional 1990s household where sign language is forbidden. He secretly navigates three different communities united by a passionate belief that communication (and love) can ignite from sparks alive in your fingertips. One of the play’s central questions asks: Would you rather be a “different” person in a “normal” world or a “normal” person in a different world?

“I truly cherished every second of my experience participating in the festival,” said Simowitz, 30. “I’m just so grateful to everyone at the Dayton Playhouse for taking a chance on a theatrically complicated, risky play. I’d like to hope it paid off for everyone involved.”

Selected from 273 eligible submissions, Simowitz’s script, recalling relevant themes in the 2020 Academy Award-winning film “Sound of Metal,” was among six finalists chosen from across the country to participate in the nationally recognized festival. Each finalist was evaluated on criteria such as dramatic concept/story, language, plot, and page-to-stage by professional adjudicators. In addition to longtime trio David Finkle, Helen Sneed and Eleanore Speert, the panel included Matt Kagen, co-founder of softFocus, and Stephanie Cowan, creative director of Gold/Ross Productions and creative producer of Heredia Vision.

“There is a sheer, exuberant theatricality to this play that I have seldom seen,” Sneed said. “The author makes use of everything the theater has to offer (such as) language, lighting, sound, dance, music, gestures, magic, humor and irony. ‘Oxytocin’ is a love hormone and has an absolutely phenomenal and positive impact on human life. We all have (oxytocin), we all have (oxytocin) to give. This play makes a brilliant case for the lifeforce in each and every one of us.”

“This play was so remarkable and unforgettable,” Kagen echoed.

“This play was written from the heart,” Finkle added. “Basically, I was watching (the play) to learn a great deal and I was taught a great deal. I was extremely impressed by the play.”

The cast of the 2021 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest-winning play "All the Oxytocin in Your Fingertips" by Cary Simowitz. CONTRIBUTED
The cast of the 2021 Dayton Playhouse FutureFest-winning play "All the Oxytocin in Your Fingertips" by Cary Simowitz. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Directed by Fran Pesch as a staged reading within the Zoom format, a structure effectively allowing the characters and dialogue to take precedence, “Oxytocin” featured a terrific, diverse cast of hearing and deaf actors. The cast consisted of Tyler Fortson as Cal, Jesse Dorland as Cal’s Interpreter, Cassandra Engber as Mother, Jamie McQuinn as Father, Kyra Nicole Ayala as Lydia, Anne Lumpkin as Lydia’s Interpreter, Maddie Fears as Margo, Chris Hammond as Margo’s Interpreter, Stacey Brewer as Pediatrician/Doctor, Yolanda Ford as Deaf Roommate/Student/Remy, Hope Smith as Remy’s Interpreter, and Becky Milligan as Hearing Persons.

Pesch’s production staff included associate director, videographer, editor, and sound editor Annie Pesch, associate director, actor/interpreter liaison and ASL consultant Laura Wild, graphics designer Kat Timm, and specialty props designer/builder Brian Huggins.

“‘Oxytocin’ has been one of my most challenging directing endeavors,” said Pesch, who also served as FutureFest program director. “The finished product was only made possible due to the time and effort provided by Laura Wild and Annie Pesch. It was fortunate ‘Oxytocin’ was recorded on Zoom, which allowed the audience to absorb the full extent of the ‘moments’ on camera/stage. I look forward to the time when I can meet my cast and thank them personally for being part of this wonderful adventure. And I am grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to direct the first production of ‘Oxytocin.’”

“Given the colossal theatrical challenges associated with this play, I was tremendously impressed with what was able to be achieved within the two-dimensional confines of Zoom,” Simowitz said. “During my adjudication, I mentioned I was quite simply floored while watching the piece, in awe of the choices the creative team made to adapt the play for the computer screen. The amount of ingenuity involved, the level of talent that went into mounting this piece, was simply inspiring. This was the first time I had the opportunity to see deaf performers inhabit these roles. Watching TJ, Kyra, Maddie, and Yolanda, and their respective interpreters, breathe life into these fictional characters that have lived in my head for half a decade was one of the most gratifying, moving experiences I’ve had in my eight years of attending various festivals with other plays. To finally be in the room with deaf performers and interpreters was just a gift.”

The remaining finalists were: “Otis” by Shanti Reinhardt of Los Angeles, California; “Shylock the First” by Andrew Heinze of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey; “Talk of the Town” by Mike Bencivenga of Astoria, New York; “Tall Woman with Red Fan” by Michael Sloane of Glendale, California; and “Truth Be Told” by William Cameron of Washington, Pennsylvania.

“In my estimation, this may be the best collection of plays we have ever received (from) Dayton (Playhouse),” said Finkle regarding the overall quality of the six finalists. “With just a few adjustments, these plays are ready for production. I’d like to see these plays in New York City.”

Simowitz, who is also a lawyer, currently serves as the Dramatists Guild’s Regional Ambassador for St. Louis. In 2019, he received his Master of Fine Arts in Playwrighting from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, where he was interested in creating stories centered on parent-child relationships, specifically in which the child was in some significant fashion fundamentally “different” from his or her parents. His plays include “Djarum Vanilla” and “A Wolf’s Mother.” His work is notably influenced by Andrew Solomon’s book “Far from the Tree,” a 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize nonfiction winter.

The streaming production of “Oxytocin” is available through the Dayton Playhouse’s Vimeo Channel through Sunday, July 25. Tickets to this and all other FutureFest finalist productions are available by visiting daytonplayhouse.com.

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.