Having seen the second production of Salvation Road—third if you count the original one-act at the Philly Fringe in 2009—I have now received the kind of vindication every playwright craves: I know my script stands up.
With two different casts in two radically different incarnations—David Montgomery’s production at New York University featured original music, a rich sound design and a modular set, while Alec Volz’s production at Walden Theatre in Louisville was performed in the round with minimal sound and only four barstools as set pieces—the story of a young man in search of a lost sister is the same from one production to another. Now having worked the play through several readings and workshops, I already knew that the script was fairly well constructed and I had a lot of confidence in it. But seeing it in a second incarnation showed me that the play was really there. It lived on stage in a different way, but the fundamentals were the same.
Most playwrights, though, don’t get to this discovery, for the simple reason that most plays never get past the initial production, if they are produced at all. As we know, theatre in the United States has been peculiarly obsessed with world premieres—and this obsession works to the detriment of the form. Not only is it frustrating to labor so over a play that will never see more than a single production, it precludes a playwright from experiencing the essential next step in a play’s development. Because it is only the second production that will make clear to us exactly how well—or how poorly–constructed our play really is. Simply put, if if what we deem essential to our play falls out of it when a different director and cast takes over—then we know that there are problems with the script.