Working on a new play is always a challenge in isolation. After successive drafts, you reach a point where you lose the path forward—or worse, where the path splits into a dozen different trails and there is no clear indication which one is the right one to follow. That is the point, for me, when I need to hear the script aloud. A fascinating alchemy occurs when an actor takes my words and breathes life into them.
Sometimes the result is a great leap forward in the development of the script.
That’s what is happening this week at The Provincetown Playhouse in New York, where I have been working with director Deirdre Lavrakas Kelly, dramaturg Cecily O’Neill, and a cast of students from the NYU Steinhardt School of Educational Theatre to prepare SALVATION ROAD for a weekend of staged readings.
I came into the first reading Sunday night with a vague notion that the play needed something, but I didn’t know exactly what. Steinhardt’s New Plays for Young Audiences program is in its 15th year, dedicated to developing new work that challenges young people. (How wonderful that it is taking place at the playhouse that launched the careers of Susan Glaspell and Eugene O’Neill.) If ever there was a play that fit the NYPA mission, it’s this one. SALVATION ROAD puts two boys on road trip in search of a girl who has disappeared into a fundamentalist religious cult. For school groups, this is a dicey, hot button topic—where exactly do you draw the line between faith and fanaticism? Is this a subject suitable for young people ages 12 and above? We will certainly find out.
After the initial read, and following a discussion with Cecily, it became clear to me that the work this week would concentrate on clarifying character. Thirty new pages later, two characters in particular have come more sharply into focus –their motives and needs are more clearly drawn, and for that reason, their scenes really crackle now. This has been one of the most fruitful collaborative processes I’ve had the privilege to experience, and it’s a terrific reminder why I do this in the first place. There is nothing more gratifying than getting into a room with other theatre artists and discovering their enthusiasm for the words I’ve put on paper. The actors are having a great time working on the play, and for me, that’s a real endorsement.
Salvation Road at The Provincetown Playhouse, 133 McDougall Street, New York, NY. June 16, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.;June 17 at 3 p.m.