BWW Interview: Playwright Ken Weitzman and HALFTIME WITH DON at NJ Rep 6/22 to 7/30
New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) presents the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Halftime with Don written by Ken Weitzman and directed by Kent Nicholson. The production will be performed on the Long Branch stage from June 22 to July 30.
In the show, Don Devers may not have been the biggest name in the NFL, but his heart and his charisma were once unrivaled on the field. Known for helping every opponent he knocked down to get back onto their feet, Don has been brought to his knees by the cruel legacy of his high-impact heyday. Ed Ryan, a demoralized fan who has idolized Don all of his life, arrives at his door searching for inspiration. Instead, Ed finds his hero shut off from the world, attempting to stave off the encroaching offensive of traumatic brain damage with Pringles, pills and Post-It notes. Stephanie, Don's pregnant, tough-as-nails daughter, is sure she knows why he refuses to see even her. But she's wrong. What she discovers, what they all discover through the mirror of Don's decline, is an unpredictable, remarkable perspective on hope and strength in the clinch of being merely human.
The cast includes Malachy Cleary as Don Devers; Susan Maris as Sarah Ryan; Lori Vega as Stephanie Devers and Dan McVey as Ed Ryan. Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing playwright Ken Weitzman about his career and Halftime with Don at NJ Rep.
Weitzman's play, Halftime with Don is also slated for productions at B Street Theatre and the Phoenix Theatre as part of the National New Play Network's Rolling World Premiere. Previous productions include, among others, The Catch (The Denver Center Theatre Company), Fire in the Garden (Indiana Repertory Theatre), The As If Body Loop (Humana Festival), Arrangements (Atlantic Theatre Company). Hominid (Out of Hand Theatre/Theatre Emory/Oerol Festival Netherlands. Plays-in- progress include Reclamation (O'Neill National Playwrights Conference), Spin Moves (New Harmony Project, Theatre Lab), and seal boy (Keen Company, Lark, Playwrights Center). National Awards include The L. Arnold Weissberger Award for Playwriting for Arrangements, TCG Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award for The Catch, the Fratti/Newman Political Play Contest Award for Fire in the Garden, and South Coast Repertory's Elizabeth George Commission for an Outstanding Emerging Playwright. Organizations who have commissioned Ken's work include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Arena Stage, the ALLIANCE THEATRE, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Theatre Emory, Out of Hand Theatre, and South Coast Repertory Theatre. Ken's is a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center of Minneapolis, a former Writer-in- Residence for Out of Hand Theatre Company, and served as a board member for The New Harmony Project. Ken's plays have been published by Samuel French and Playscripts. Ken received his MFA from University of California, San Diego and has taught at UCSD, Emory University, Indiana University (head of MFA in Playwriting) and, currently, at Stony Brook University.
When did you first realize your penchant for writing?
As with many writers, acting was my gateway drug for theatre. I primarily acted in college at the University of Michigan but the summer before my senior I saw Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian develop their solo work at PS 122 and was captivated, so I wrote a one-person. I quickly realized the writing part was far more satisfying and compelling to me.
Was there anyone who encouraged your career as a playwright?
Certainly my wife, Amy. In general, theatre was a part of my family life growing up - my parents took us to theatre, discussed it, and encouraged my pursuits. My brother, a fine writer, showed me by example what it was to rewrite, which is really my favorite part, playing with the puzzle of the first draft, playing with plot, form, and character - making major alterations.
What inspired "Halftime for Don?"
I have a background in sports, having worked on sports documentaries and production in my early working days. I follow stories in particular that speak to larger issues in American Culture. In 2009, when articles came out about Mike Webster as patient zero in the discovery of CTE, I was shocked by his condition, the decimation of both his body and brain, the collateral damage it causes for family and friends, and it's connection to the warrior mentality - its costs, as well as what is says about whom we revere. There's a joke in the play that Don (the retiRed Football player) tells which is equal parts funny and tragic: "In what way are football players and prostitutes the same? They both ruin their bodies for the pleasure of strangers."
How does teaching complement your career as a playwright?
Being a professor feeds me. I'm not someone who can sit down alone and write all day. I'd go crazy. Getting to read my students plays, having to articulate the craft in simple, clear terms to them, and generally being inspired by their passion and creativity. I love teaching and it's profoundly connected to my work and my belief in the transformative power of theatre and writing.
Tell us a little about working with NJ Rep.
What a wonderful place SuzAnne and Gabor have created ad what a wonderful, smart, supportive audience they've cultivated that engages passionately with new work. SuzAnne and Gabor's kindness, inclusivity, and love of new plays permeates the entire place.
What would you like NJ area audiences to know about the show?
It's not a polemic in any way. It's funny, it's heartfelt, and tells a full story.
What is in the works that you'd like us know about?
I have two plays I'm currently working on that are being workshopped around the country. One is connected to sports. It's called Spin Moves and deals with a teenager who's escaped the Bosnian war and her obsession with basketball and how she must overcome her panic attacks to play. The play takes place during the inaugural year of the WNBA. The other play, Seal Boy, deals with the fetishization of motherhood and parenting and the difficulty of raising a difficult child - who happens to be a seal. Naturally.
Anything, absolutely anything you want BWW readers to know!
I greatly, greatly appreciate their interest in theatre.
For more information about Ken Weitzman, read his profile on New Play Exchange at https://newplayexchange.org/users/435/ken-weitzman and visit his web site, http://kenweitzman.com/.
Previews for Halftime with Don will kick-off Thursday, June 22, with a complimentary game-day buffet of chili, chips and beer following the performance. Opening night with a reception is Saturday, June 24. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are are available by calling 732-229-3166 or online at www.njrep.org.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ken Weitzman