I am thrilled to invite you to a reading of my new play The Seven Wonders of Chipping which will be at Artists Repertory Theatre, SW Morrison at 15th on Saturday January 26 at 2 pm and Monday January 28 at 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation $10. To get tickets call the ART box office at (503)241-1278. Do it soon as I’m hoping that we sell this out. The reading is part of the citywide Fertile Ground Festival of new plays being read by wonderful actors for low ticket prices at most theatres in Portland.
Seven Wonders is a charming romantic comedy set in a pub in the English countryside in 1953. It is a blossoming story, like the classic film Summertime starring Katharine Hepburn as the aging school teacher from Akron, Ohio who goes to Venice and finds love (based on the play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents.) But the tone is more like The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill starring Hugh Grant. If you don’t know these movies, I’ll wait while you type them into your Netflix que.
Have you seen the you-tube video of the proposal shot here in Portland with a whole gang of family and friends lip-synching Bruno Mars’ “I Think I Wanna Marry You?” It’s had 16.5 million views since it went up a few months ago. You’re kidding. Okay, I’ll wait again. Go type it in. You can get it with “Isaac Proposal” or any of several variations. No chance you won’t find it.
Adorable, right? Well, Isaac of the famed proposal is playing the romantic and funny leading man, Jonty, in Seven Wonders so there is yet another reason to come. Plus my dear old friend Peggy Walton Walker (some of you remember her and her husband Keith, author of Free Willy, who came to our WW conferences back in the day) is flying in from New Orleans to read the dowager role. Don Stewart Burns plays Old Bailey the local drunk and if you need a further reason, there’s a ghost.
It has been fun to write this after writing two tragedies in a row. Lear’s Follies, a new version of King Lear which some of you came to see this past summer. And two years ago The Wilde Boy at Fertile Ground is my play about Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover, fifteen years after Wilde’s death. A beautiful and sad story.
The Seven Wonders of Chipping almost didn’t get written.
The story came to me more than ten years ago. I used to take my kids and sister and sometimes my parents and rent a cottage or farmhouse in the English countryside for two weeks in the summer. This is cheaper than hotels and they come with kitchen, woods, cows and bunnies. I would always choose a small town in the gorgeous Cotswolds from which we could take day trips by rented car to places like Stonehenge, Avebury and Stratford. And we would frequent the local pubs. A fellow at the local pub, whose last name , oddly, was a synonym for drunk, told me about “the seven wonders” of his town. And they were funny and charming and that was the seed that sprouted this play years later.
I put off writing it for a long time because it seemed hopelessly uncommercial and unhip. It is charming and heartwarming and has a happy ending. It is the kind of play they don’t write or produce much any more. One of my all time favorite playwrights, Herb Gardner, best known for A Thousand Clowns, wrote this kind of play. Nowadays plays are darker, edgier, more cynical, mostly about dysfunctional families, politics or social issues. This play has a dark side. The people in it have been damaged by things that have happened to them in life, but it’s a play that makes you feel good.
I tried to talk myself out of writing this play, but it wouldn’t go away. I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you. The story that you refuse, but that keeps developing anyway like an unwanted pregnancy and eventually you have to give up and give birth to it. This one got delivered on last spring’s Trans-Atlantic cruise. We had a whole month at sea and I read scenes aloud to the group and by the time we landed at our final port of Venice, I had a draft.
The second stage of playwriting (after doing everything you can think of alone in a room to make it good and then make it better) is to invite actors over to your house to read it out loud to you. You pay them with good food. Since this play is set in a pub, I made shepherd’s pie and stocked up on Guinness. And you invite a dozen or so of your smartest friends to sit in so you can get some feedback and find out where the laughs are, if there are any laughs.
At the end of this first living room read, (in which there was much laughter, thank you Gods of Humor whatever your Greek names may be) several of my old writing cronies who know all my plays told me this was the best one so far. And even more unprecedented, three of the seven actors asked me if they could keep the copy of the play and would I sign it . I know. As good as a standing O.
My heart is in this. I have given up the struggle and let myself fall in love with a story about falling in love. Let’s make this a science project. A test case to see if heart warming and charming have a place in our culture. Please come. You are hereby invited personally. I’ll see you there. XOXO