Middlesex County College Professor and playwright Benjamin V. Marshall was recently honored twice: he received the Wagner College Stanley Award for Drama and a fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts.
The Stanley Award was presented for his brilliant play, “Incident at Willow Creek,” about an African-American professor agonizing over the gun issue. She obsesses over an incident that resulted in the killing of an innocent black man but is torn between self-defense and complying with law enforcement. One of her students has a fixation on guns and offers to teach her how to shoot. This is not a play with easy answers.
Felicia Ruff, chair of the Theater and Speech Department at Wagner College, presented the award.
“To call it a play about gun culture in American society is too simplistic, though it is about that,” she said. “Mr. Marshall has managed to do in ‘Incident at Willow Creek’ what great playwrights do, he has managed to make the recounting of events the central action. His play strikes me as doing what the great Greek dramas do – it shows characters debating not as a rhetorical exercise, but as an embodied action – from various complicated perspectives that are given voice in recognizable people. I know these people and I know their deep longing to be heard.”
Professor Marshall said he began writing the play two years ago during a spate of incidents involving gun violence and African-Americans.
“I was trying to understand why such things happen,” he said. “Art can reflect its time and by holding up a mirror to our world, we try to comprehend it.”
Professor Marshall also received a $12,000 fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. New Jersey Individual Artist Fellowships are competitive awards to New Jersey artists based on independent peer assessment of work samples. The awards may be used to help artists produce new work and advance their careers. Professor Marshall was one of 18 artists to receive a fellowship.
“Whether it’s sculpture, poetry, or theater, New Jersey has long been a forerunner in the arts,” said Acting Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “Our arts history is incredibly rich and its pages are thick with distinguished emissaries like William Carlos Williams and Alice Barber Stephens. I have full faith and confidence that our newest generations of artists, like those supported through this excellent program, will not disappoint.”