Pearl Moore

“Murphy’s Law of Pretenders,” by Pearl Moore, a third-year graduate student from Cana, Virginia, who is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in playwriting, will be performed this week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Big Muddy New Play Festival. (Photo provided)

March 20, 2023

11th Big Muddy New Play Festival highlights student work, March 23-26

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A trip down memory lane that features four alternate endings, along with three full-length stage readings from graduate students, combine for an enchanting four days provided by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s theater and dance programs this week.

The 11th annual Big Muddy New Play Festival is Thursday through Sunday, March 23-26, in SIU’s Christian H. Moe Laboratory Theater, which is in the Communications Building, Room 1045. The play, “Murphy’s Law of Pretenders,” by Pearl Moore, a third-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in playwriting, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. March 23-25, with a matinee at 2 p.m. March 26.

Moore said the play features four friends — Murphy, Sophie, Gia and Riley — who haven’t talked in 10 years but have returned for their school reunion to discover where their friendship started. When an argument starts over who is taking home their treasured dress-up chest, “things begin to get weird. All of them are sucked into their childhood dress-up chest, forced to play games and unpack the trauma they thought they had left behind for good.”

Moore, who is from Cana, Virginia, said the process with a small cast of four “has been very imaginative and truthful.”

“I've been telling people it's a lot like how a 5-year-old picks up a stick only for it to become a real sword,” she said. “Segun Ojewuyi, the director, grounds our cast even if the world of the play can be a little wild — like going from a circus to space back to the real world. It feels chaotic, but everything has meaning to it.”

Moore also loves the collaborative effort. Ojewuyi, the director, is a professor in the School of Theater and Dance and interim associate dean in the College of Arts and Media. The designers are Gennie Neuman Lambert (set), Jaemin Park (lights/sound) and Jen Helms (costumes).

“The yearly Big Muddy New Play Festival is the culmination of the MFA playwriting program’s work on full-length plays,” said Jacob Juntunen, associate professor of dramatic literature, criticism and playwriting. “Graduating MFA students get to see their thesis script produced, which is essential for a playwright, since scripts are meant to be experienced in three dimensions rather than read. Every other MFA student gets to hear a staged reading of their script in front of a public audience, which prepares them for their later thesis work.”

The student cast, with hometowns listed, comprises:

  • Grace Brown, senior, musical theater, Lexington, Kentucky.
  • Arianna Foreman, junior, theater, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Lydia Holterman, freshman, theater, St. Charles, Missouri.
  • Olivia Manning, freshman, musical theater, Louisville, Kentucky.

“It's like watching a board game come to life with everyone willing to play and knowing what the stakes are. It’s thrilling,” Moore said. She will hold a playwright talkback after Friday’s performance.

Moore’s play has also been selected for reading April 16 at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s 2023 Confluence New Play Festival.  

Ticket information

Tickets are $20 for adults, $8 for students and children. Tickets are available by visiting, the SIU Ticket Office or by calling 618-453-6000.

Free staged readings are March 25

The staged readings by theater students in the MFA playwriting program are also in Moe Theater and a discussion will follow each reading. Admission is free.

The schedule, with play title, student, and hometown, is:

  • 10 a.m. — “Pledge Pawns” by Aleksei Ellis, of Kingston, Massachusetts.
  • 1 p.m. — “Titania and Oberon’s (Therapy) Road Trip” by Emily Klingensmith, of Edwardsville, who goes by the penname e.k. doolin. Her play will also be performed at the Confluence New Play Festival at 7 p.m. April 16.
  • 4 p.m. — “The Man Who Touched the Sun” by Cameron Noel, of Richmond, Virginia.