If you hear from someone who claimed to see every fully-staged performance at the eight-day Great Plains Theatre Conference, they may not be exaggerating. If they swear they’ve seen every play reading, they’re more than exaggerating unless they occupied three rooms at the same time. I felt lucky about the plays I attended, especially Recommended Reading for Girls by Omahan Ellen Struve. After laughing along with a very responsive audience, I wasn’t the only one dabbing my eyes at the end. It’s worth plugging after that one-shot staged reading because it cries to be produced for a full run here. Hughston Walkinshaw, the Blue Barn founder now in Kansas City, happened to be sitting next to me, and I agreed when he declared the play perfect for the Omaha Community Playhouse. The talented Christina Rohling and Amy Lane played two sisters visiting their mother (Mary Kelly), who suffers from cancer. Christina’s character comes home to urge mom to enter an experimental treatment program. When she sees Heidi on the stairs and then encounters Anne of Green Gables, the Little Princess and a girl detective who matches the profile of Nancy Drew, she thinks she’s hallucinating. But her sister sees them, too, and they’re soon getting acquainted, and wondering if mom knows these fictional folks are hanging around. It would take a more artful summary to come close to revealing just how well Struve’s literary conceit works. It’s simply brilliant, full of humor and warmth, while telling an intriguing and substantial story. Not having read everything recommended for girls, I knew of these fictional girls but didn’t know them well. Turns out they have something significant in common: the absence of mothers in their lives. Hmmm. What can they be up to? An organized campaign should convince the Playhouse to put this on the schedule as soon as possible. When the reading ended, a woman assigned to critique the play was so moved she asked her male counterpart to go first “because I’m a mess.” I saw other strong plays and strong performances, especially by Jill Anderson and Seth Fox in Alchemy of Desire/Dead Man’s Blues and by Kim Jubenville and Bill Grennan among others in Seder. I’ll comment later on Lee Blessing’s hilarious Fortinbras. But the one I most want the rest of the world to enjoy was Recommended Reading for Girls. — Warren Francke Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.

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