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Outward Bound

State of the Arts


Published October 20, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

Adriano Shaplin was a 14-year-old wunderkind when he started acting with the Green Candle Theatre Company. The Burlington troupe's flame burned out a while back, but Shaplin, at 25, shines on brighter than ever. Now he's a playwright as well as a player and founding member with the San Francisco-based troupe Riot Group. Their politically propelled Pugilist Specialist has just extended its run off-Broadway. It's received impressive reviews -- especially Shaplin's writing.

The New York Times touted Pugilist as "an engrossing, inventive dissection of the American military mind." Variety called it "an uncommonly bracing shot of political theater." But these praises pale beside Shaplin's reputation in the United Kingdom, where Pugilist took top honors at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A Scotland on Sunday reviewer gushed, "Writer Adriano Shaplin is set to join Arthur Miller and David Mamet in the pantheon of great American dramatists."

The Mamet model is apt: In a 1996 Seven Days profile Shaplin credited his dramatic awakening to an Oleanna performance he saw on Broadway at age 13. After graduating early from Burlington High School, he attended Sarah Lawrence College. In 1997, he and fellow students Drew Friedman and Stephanie Viola formed Riot Group. Three years ago Shaplin invited Burlington actor Paul Schnabel to join the troupe; the two had met on the cast of Steve Goldberg's Curb Divers of Redemption. Shaplin, then 16, was playing a "punch-drunk, 40-year-old boxer," recalls Schnabel.

Despite their success in the U.K., until Pugilist Specialist, "We were still being really ignored by American producers," says Shaplin. Conceived at the outset of the U.S. offensive in Iraq, the play concerns a quartet of Marines on a covert mission to take out the leader of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Schnabel plays the commanding officer, Shaplin the smart-aleck marksman. "I don't think any of us fall into a standard military mold," says Schna-bel. "It's antiwar but not antimilitary. That's part of its appeal."

After New York, Pugilist moves to Greece, Germany and Hong Kong. No bookings yet for Burlington, though the Flynn Center's Arnie Molina says, "We're really excited about it and would love to bring it here."

Meanwhile, another Shaplin piece takes Manhattan in November. Hell Meets Harry Halfway, written for the Philadel-phia physical-theater ensemble Pig Iron, is loosely based on a 1939 gothic novel by Polish absurdist author Witold Gombrowicz. Pig Iron's website calls the play "a heady cocktail of florid insults and absurd cruelties dressed in tennis whites." It was commissioned by the Gombrowicz Centennial Festival in Lublin, Poland, where it plays this weekend before moving to Warsaw. It comes to the U.S. as part of an international series of events -- including talks, exhibitions, films, concerts and plays -- honoring Gombrowicz. (What? You never heard of the guy, either?)

Shaplin's next Riot Group project, Switch Triptych, involves switchboard operators from the 1920s. "It's about redundancy, automation, the industrial revolution and people losing their jobs," Shaplin explains. Schnabel plays the part of a switchboard operator managing officer being forced into retirement. Switch begins rehearsing in London in July.

Vermonters vacationing on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands after October 20 can pick up the local rag and find some familiar names on the masthead. Tom and Shirley Paine, formerly of Charlotte, recently acquired The St. John Sun Times. Tom, 42, is the author of the 2000 short-story collection Scar Vegas and the 2003 novel The Pearl of Kuwait. His 1997 short story "From Basra to Bethlehem" in Seven Days won a Pushcart Prize.

Tom Paine's connection to St. John dates back to 1989, when he moved down to run the island's other paper, Tradewinds. That's where he met Shirley, who was the paper's graphic designer and arts editor. The Paines have been returning every year, "hoping to find a way to live down here," he says.

Plans fell into place when the Times' 80-year-old publisher decided to retire and tapped Tom as her successor because she trusted him to maintain the paper's community focus. Paine sees The Times -- now renamed The Sun Times -- as the island's alternative paper. "In a sense," he says, "we thought we'd model ouselves as Seven Days South." Did someone say sabbatical?

Readers who can't get down to the subtropics can still keep up with Paine's writing stateside. His next book, which is "90 percent" finished, he says, is a juvenile novel "kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" was too partisan for Vermont Public Radio. So WDEV in Waterbury picked up the syndicated show. "The demand was incredible," says station owner Ken Squier. It'll air Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at 96.1 FM... Mad River Valley listeners can tune into a new community radio station beginning October 11. WMRW broadcasts at 95.1 FM from the East Warren Store. The signal carries all the way from Fayston to Waitsfield. Think -- and listen -- local.