Nittany Theatre at the Barn to present play contest winnner

Sometimes a guy has to work with what he’s got — and in this case that was absolutely jack.

Writer James Armstrong really wanted to enter Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s Free Speech Play Contest. Call it ambition, call it competitive spirit, call it a $3,500 cash prize — the dude was looking to get in the game.

The problem was his hunch that a play submitted to contest about free speech should probably — at least in passing — mention something about free speech.

And he had nothing.

“With plays you’re there, and yes, there’s a certain amount of spectacle that you can create, but it’s much more about the words,” Armstrong said.

His play “Dark Night of the Soul” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday inside the little barn in Boalsburg, so clearly something worked out — but not before the playwright was forced to reconsider his own body of work.

Armstrong wrote his first play while he was still in high school, a dark comedy about a mother who murdered all of her son’s girlfriends that was eventually produced in New York City.

“I had always been one of those kids with a big imagination, I always liked to write,” Armstrong said.

After stumbling across the story of Joan of Arc (French, claimed to receive visions from God, burned at the stake) he saw the potential for a story about the loss of faith.

Conceptually, at least, Armstrong’s finished play seemed to bare little or no relation to free speech. Then he began to rethink his heroine, who died rather than renounce what she believed to be true.

“She began to realize that if she’s not going to be able to tell the truth, then her life really wasn’t going to worth living,” Armstrong said.

Dave Saxe, the theater’s producing artistic director, said they received 51 different plays from people all over the country.

Armstrong’s play grabbed their attention right from the jump.

“The first couple lines of a play, if that writer can hook you right there, they’re probably going to hold you the rest of the way,” Saxe said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready


  • What: “Dark Night of the Soul”
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
  • Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, Boal Estate Drive, Boalsburg
  • Info: www.nittanytheatre.org