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BWW Interview: Playwright Samuel Garza Bernstein On His Truth's-Stranger-Than-Fiction Alter Ego DANNY LOPEZ

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Samuel Garza Bernstein’s autobiographical THE SECRET WORLD OF DANNY LOPEZ opens September 10th at The Two Roads Theater

BWW Interview: Playwright Samuel Garza Bernstein On His Truth's-Stranger-Than-Fiction Alter Ego DANNY LOPEZ

Samuel Garza Bernstein's autobiographical THE SECRET WORLD OF DANNY LOPEZ opens September 10, 2021 at The Two Roads Theater. This one-man show comedically covers issues on religion, ethnicity, wealth, transient poverty, and gender nonconformity, all within sixty minutes. Had the chance to pepper Samuel with a few of my investigating questions.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Samuel!

You first wrote THE SECRET WORLD OF DANNY LOPEZ as a screenplay, winning the Los Angeles Film Award for Best Comedy Screenplay and the New York Film Award for Best Screenplay. How hard, or easy, was it to transform your screenplay into a one-man stage vehicle for yourself?

Everything with me is a duality. Turning this material into a solo show with music was both extremely easy and incredibly hard. Easy, because the material is stuff I've been working on for years. Hard, because the TV version I'm developing with Kung Fu Monkey Productions is written in a narrative structure, with characters experiencing the events as they happen. A solo show is a whole other beast. I'm thrilled that Jenn Court and John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey supported the idea, believing, as I do, that the stage version enhances the TV version and vice versa.

When did the idea of writing DANNY LOPEZ first slip into your brain? Had you always planned in the back of your mind to write an autobiographical piece?

I looked around the streaming landscape a couple of years ago and realized the time is ripe. I've always liked stories that are both comedy and drama, and that deal with characters and issues in messy and emotionally complicated ways. That hasn't always put me in the center of mainstream entertainment. But now I feel like the center is shifting my way. DANNY LOPEZ is sometimes giddily demented, even as it tells stories that in other eras would have been treated with dire seriousness. This is about a kid (me) in situations that could be described as abusive and frightening, yet he responds in unusual ways and seeks his own measure of joy and humor.

When you started writing DANNY LOPEZ, in what form did you envision the final product? Screenplay? Theatrical piece? TV series?

If you had asked me two months ago what would be the final, best version of the show, I would have said as a TV show. But now that I've sunk my teeth into the solo piece, I'm loving it. I have dreams of doing the Phoebe Waller-Bridge leap from one-person show to global phenomenon. So I'll say both a TV show and a stage piece.

BWW Interview: Playwright Samuel Garza Bernstein On His Truth's-Stranger-Than-Fiction Alter Ego DANNY LOPEZ How long did it take you to have your first final rough draft on paper?

In terms of how long I took to write this, it depends on how you look at it. It took about a month to adapt from TV to stage. It took 40 years to adapt it from life to entertainment.

What would you three-line pitch for DANNY LOPEZ be?

A ten-year-old Jewish kid living in Egypt in 1975 is weird. Then take him home to Texas. Add a hidden Latina history, pop music fantasies, sex, war, black-market cheese and child-snatching -- and you get a coming-of-age story from the past that says everything about the way we live now.

Will actor Samuel Garza Bernstein adhere to the scripted words of Samuel Garza Bernstein? Or can actor Samuel Garza Bernstein improv at will?

If actor Garza Bernstein adlibs, playwright Garza Bernstein will fire his ass.

What cosmic forces first brought you together with King Fu Monkey Productions' Jenn Court and John Rogers to produce this solo show and to develop DANNY LOPEZ as a TV series?

I met Jenn Court during the WGA agent firings, when the Guild was doing everything it could to get writers in front of development execs and producers. She came to a meet-and-greet sponsored by the WGA LGBTQIA+ committee and we hit it off. We began developing the project together. She and John Rogers are amazingly committed to telling stories that haven't been told before, and they are incredibly smart.

They say 'truth is stranger than fiction.' Any particular real-life incident depicted in your stage show that is so fantastical that the audience will think you embellished it?

My Jewish father was accused of selling arms to the Palestinians during the Egypt/Israeli war. My older brothers had a secret mother in a mental institution. My white mother had a fake name and birth certificate and was actually an undocumented Mexican immigrant. My rich Jewish grandmother committed felony insurance fraud to get rid of a sable coat she hated. I could go on.

What luck of the draw landed DANNY LOPEZ at the Two Roads Theater?

Allen Levin is extremely supportive, I love the location, and it was available.

Your earlier professional credits list you as "Samuel Bernstein." What motivated you to add your mother's maiden name to become "Samuel Garza Bernstein"?

BWW Interview: Playwright Samuel Garza Bernstein On His Truth's-Stranger-Than-Fiction Alter Ego DANNY LOPEZ I learned a few years ago that my parents were never married. I'm a bastard! And I wanted to honor my late mother. She died a long time ago, but there was something about finding out that she was never legally tied to my dad that made me want all the more to belong to her heritage.

What spurred you onto creating Babyhead Productions with your husband Ronald Shore in 1997?

We love being together and working together. It seemed like a natural fit to have our own company. He produced Bobbie's Girl, the film I did for Showtime and Paramount with Bernadette Peters; and when I say produced, I mean he was in Ireland, on set every day, bringing the project in under budget and making chicken soup for Rachel Ward when she thought she might be too sick to work. The soup worked and so did she. He is a very successful realtor now, but he still produces. He also produced MR. CONFIDENTIAL, my stage musical that premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival a few years ago.

Speaking of your husband, would you tell us the significance of marrying him three times.

When you aren't equal under the law, you grab it while you can. Our rabbi performed a commitment ceremony before we could legally get married. Then same sex marriage became legal in Canada, so we got married there. And California making it legal made us go for a third wedding. Everyone should try it - you can get triple the gifts!

Which wedding did you and Ronald cry more at? Or did you cry as much each time?

I cried at all three. My favorite moment, though, was in Canada. Apparently, it's the law there that the wedding officiant has to ask "If anyone here knows of any reason why these two cannot be wed..." Just like on a soap opera. And I swear, when she asked, we all turned and looked at the door, like someone was going to come in and accuse one of us of bigamy.

What's in the future for Babyhead Productions?

I very much hope that the next step is THE SECRET WORLD OF DANNY LOPEZ streaming all over the world. And the solo show traveling to other venues. Maybe Edinburgh? New York? Cruise ships?
What's on the horizon for Samuel Garza Bernstein?

At the moment I'm learning my lines! Other than that, my husband and I are beginning a grand Portuguese adventure. We are applying for dual citizenship. In five or six years we will be E.U. and U.S. citizens. We love Europe, and if the Republicans keep destroying this country, we want to have a safe haven.
Thank you again, Samuel! I look forward to knowing you better through your DANNY LOPEZ.

For tickets to the LIVE performances of THE SECRET WORLD OF DANNY LOPEZ through September 26, 2021; log onto dannylopez.eventbrite.com


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