First Full-Length Production at 77 and a Half
By Lynda Sturner
I began writing in my forties with my first full-length play “Almost Sisters” – a comedy/drama about two woman who obliquely shared the same mother through birth and adoption. Someone called it, “everything you always wanted to know about adoption and then some.”
The play earned lots of readings – The Woman’s Project, The Provincetown Theater Company, The Actors Studio – and went through at least twenty rewrites. But it was never ever produced.
I also wrote short plays and submitted them everywhere, scoring productions in Dublin, Tokyo, New York City, Provincetown, Valdez Alaska, Omaha and Madison, Wisconsin. I loved seeing my short plays on the stage and continued to write them, because more theaters and theatre festivals would produce them.
Who cared if I ever wrote another full-length? I mean, they are almost impossible to get produced. What was the point? My son called them my computer plays meaning they stayed inside my computer.
Then I started working with Jim Dalglish at the Provincetown Theater. We produced “Art Brut,” a collection of two of our one-act plays, and “Sextet,” six of our short plays about sex. We even collaborated on a few of the short plays. It was a whole new world for me.
Along the way, we started sending each other the first drafts of our plays. He even tried to help me rewrite “Almost Sisters.” I was thrilled. Jim is the best.
Years passed and I stopped writing plays.
Recovering from Tragedy
Writing is a mysterious process. You dream or remember something, sit down at a computer, stare at the keys. Your fingers begin typing and somehow that dream or memory transforms itself into something else and the writing of a new play begins.
This was how it was for me before my son Danny died. After his death, I found myself locked behind a dense wall of blankness, where dreams and memories couldn’t penetrate. What happened was so horrible it did not come with words. I lost words.
Sometimes tragedy brings a realignment, a shift of relationships. So it was with my friendship with Jim.
The day Danny died, my son Teddy called Jim and told him what had happened. Teddy asked Jim to go to my house so I wouldn’t be alone when he called me to break the news to me.
Jim said, “You shouldn’t have to be the one telling your mother. I’ll go there tell her and then we will call you.”
I was cleaning my house when Jim called and said he wanted to stop by. “Sure” I said and put away the vacuum cleaner and dust mop.
Jim arrived with valium and Rob with a large box of Nabisco Ginger Snaps and equally large bag of Red Twizzlers.
When Jim said those forever words to me, I didn’t understand what he was talking about. However, when the most anti-drug person I ever knew handed me two valium and Rob gave me a bag of Twizzlers, it became real.
He called my friends and family, packed me up and drove me to NYC. And that was how Jim and Rob became family.
The next two years were a blur. The outside me functioned, my insides were locked. Mostly I read mystery books, sometimes two a day. I couldn’t write because I was afraid the dam inside me would break and everything deep and horrible would pour out.
Rediscovering My Talent
During the winter of 2011 I was in disappearing mode, reading mystery books. Jim called. “That short play you wrote a while back? It’s really a full length and I want to write it with you.”
“I’m not really writing now,” I said. “I’m in the middle of finding out who done it.”
“It was the butler,” Jim said. “Now, let’s get together and talk and see what comes up.”
Thus, began our journey with “A Talented Woman.” We met every day, talked, fought, resolved our differences and eventually wrote a full-length sophisticated comedy. It was intense and challenging, but it strengthened our friendship in so many ways. For every day that was exhilarating, there were others when I was exhausted and drained by our workouts. But I trusted him and I think he trusted me. We have completely different writing styles and had to learn how to draw the best out of each other. We laughed, fought, and persevered.
I’m usually a woman who wants to please, but with Jim I didn’t have to. I could fight with him, defending my vision while he fought back with his. Miraculously, we discovered how to blend our visions together.
You really have to trust someone to write a play together. Trust them enough that even when you are on different pages you know you both want to work it out.
Jim’s husband Rob Phelps helped enormously. There were times when we couldn’t move ahead and Rob was our passionate advocate.
Then came the readings, Provincetown Theater, Eventide Arts, The Actors Studio and the MacCarter Theater in Princeton. Here we go with more readings! Will any theater dare to take on this hilarious, but challenging work?
Cotuit Center for the Arts
A few years ago, Cotuit Center For the Arts began producing some of Jim’s plays. He had a following. Of course, he did. His plays are brilliant.
He asked David Kuehn for – and got – a reading of “A Talented Woman” at Cotuit Center for the Arts. The reaction to the reading? I have finally, at 77 and a half years old, scored my first full production of a full-length play.
Now Jim and I need to work together in a different way. Jim is directing and I’m playing Maxie. We agreed that at rehearsals I would be an actor not a co-writer. He has ideas for my character I never thought about when we were creating her. Jim has assembled a fantastic cast and design team.
We’re beginning rehearsals. I hope both of us behave.
So far so good.
Thank you Jim for the best writing experience I ever had.