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All the World’s a Courtroom

By Heidi Heller

By Heidi Heller 

Stephen Cribari has a passion for words. Considering his tastes in pop culture, the local playwright and poet might have been more at home in a different time.

"When language becomes second to what people are doing, there's a loss of literary value," says Cribari, a former federal public defender and now full-time law professor at the University of Minnesota. "I like older movies--movies from the 1930s--when they made movies like plays. Where the drama is what people are saying to each other."

Cribari got into the playwriting game 10 years ago. Inspired by a night at the Metropolitan Opera, he composed a short story about an aging cellist who realizes the price paid for choosing the love of music over the love of a person. Two years later, while re-reading Sonata for Solo Cello, he began to see and hear it as a play. After adapting the story for the stage, he put it away and forgot about it. A few months later he received word that it was going to be performed at the Changing Scene Theatre in Denver--a friend had submitted the play without Cribari's knowledge to the Summerplay 1999 Festival.

So he kept writing. Another one of his plays, Listening to Mozart, received an honorable mention at the New Colorado Voices 2001 competition.
Cribari prefers writing one-act plays, but he has written a few full-length ones too. As in Sonata and Mozart, he strives to infuse his work with a deeper, underlying message. "[I want the audience to get] a greater sense of clarity of who they are and a greater sense of the extraordinary possibilities of being alive," he says.

Since moving to Minnesota, Cribari has had a few plays produced in Minneapolis. The Works/Plays Theater Company performed Mozart in 2003. His one-act plays Cell Phone Quintet and Fingerprinting a Corpse were directed at Patrick's Cabaret. And over the last two years, he has contributed to Bedlam Theatre's annual Ten Minute Play Festival where Bar Talk and Cravasse Rescue premiered.

In total, Cribari has written 18 plays, including two screenplays that he co-wrote with University of Arkansas law professor Don Judges. One of those, Our Sacred Honor, is a western set in Montana featuring historical figures such as Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill Cody. It is currently in production talks with, Cribari coyly says, "the people you want to talk to."

Yet for all his accomplishments, he still does not call himself a writer. "Noel Coward once said, ‘If you haven't written 21 plays, you haven't written,'" Cribari says. "So I'm trying to get there."

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