In Totally True Story, a Young Writer Juggles the Plot Points of His Life

News   In Totally True Story, a Young Writer Juggles the Plot Points of His Life Based on a Totally True Story, the frisky new American coming-of-age comedy about an important chapter in a young writer's life, opens April 11 in its world premiere presentation by Manhattan Theatre Club.
Kristine Nielsen in Based on a Totally True Story.
Kristine Nielsen in Based on a Totally True Story. Photo by Joan Marcus

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a rising and prolific young playwright whose The Muckle Man and The Mystery Plays have been produced around the country, stacks the deck for his new Off-Broadway work.

"Coming-of-age" in the case of his new play at City Center Stage II doesn't strictly refer to facing the shift from childhood to adulthood, but rather facing the integration of all aspects of a rich and young life: Finding a way to deal with new love, adult parent issues and professional success.

Twentysomething playwright Ethan Keene (played by Carson Elrod) is embarking on a promising new relationship with a novelist, Michael (played by Pedro Pascal). They meet cute. They click. The move in together. And the phone rings. Ethan gets a call from a Hollywood producer (played by Kristine Nielsen): There's interest in turning his latest play into a movie.

At the same time, Ethan's sparring with his boss (Erik Heger) at DC Comics, where he writes "The Flash."

At the same time, his Philly father (played by Michael Tucker) divorces mom for another woman — and seeks counsel from Ethan. How Ethan bends and aches during this process is the meat of Based on a Totally True Story, and the tale is told by Ethan, with a little help from Michael (career-wise, both are storytellers).

Michael Bush directs on Anna Louizos' black-and-white-and-gray set, which has scene-setting windows that flank the stage, modern swivel chairs and a fully carpeted floor with a custom weave that looks super deco. The effect, roughly, is a neutral playing area that suggests the Justice League of America's headquarters. (Just where you imagine Ethan might set a play about his own life.)

Aguirre-Sacasa, in addition to being a playwright, is also a comic book writer, but for the DC rival — Marvel Comics. How much of the play is truly based on a true story is for him to answer.

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Previews began March 23.

Here's how MTC bills Based on a Totally True Story: "Ethan Keene (Elrod) is a young playwright and comic book writer who's on the verge of breaking through. When a veteran Hollywood producer (Nielsen) decides she wants to turn one of his plays into a horror movie, the frenzy that follows forces him to deal with the real drama in his life — his relationships with his boyfriend (Pascal) and his father (Tucker)."

The creative team includes Linda Cho (costume design), Tracy Klainer (lighting design) and Ryan Rummery (sound design).

Based on a Totally True Story was originally presented as part of MTC's 6@6 reading series, which presents new works in development. Previous plays that have been developed in the 6@6 series and then produced on MTC's stages include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof by David Auburn, Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire and Between Us by Joe Hortua.

Elrod appeared in MTC's Broadway production of Reckless, MTC's Off-Broadway productions of House & Garden and Comic Potential; Heger recently appeared in the La Jolla Playhouse production of The Scottish Play; Nielsen is the lauded comic actress known for Off-Broadway's Miss Witherspoon, MTC's Wonder of the World, Omnium Gatherum and Betty's Summer Vacation (for which she won the Obie Award); Pascal appeared in MTC's Beauty of the Father; Tucker is widely known for playing Stuart Markowitz on "L.A. Law."

In addition to writing for the theatre, Aguirre-Sacasa writes the monthly adventures of The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man for Marvel Comics. His play, Golden Age, was produced by New York's Tobacco Bar Theatre Company in conjunction with the Horse Trade Theatre Group at the Kraine Theatre. Other works include The Mystery Plays (Connecticut Critics' Award for Outstanding Play; Roger L. Stevens Award), the folkloric thriller The Muckle Man (Helen Hayes nomination for Best New Play), the occult romantic comedy Say You Love Satan (New York International Fringe Festival Excellence in Playwriting Award; GLAAD Media Award nomination).

Formerly the playwright-in-residence at Second Stage Theatre in New York, he is working on a commission for that theatre (a mystery set in Nicaragua)—as well as on a commission for Manhattan Theatre Club: Good Boys and True, about a scandal that rocks a prep school. For the California Shakespeare Festival in Berkeley and ACT in San Francisco, he is developing a new version of A Midsummer Night's Dream entitled Sweet Thunder, which is set among San Francisco's homeless youth population.

This spring, The Velvet Sky, a dark bedtime story for grown-ups will premiere at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C. He is a 2003 graduate of the Yale School of Drama.

Director Michael Bush is currently the director of artistic production for the Manhattan Theatre Club. He has been associated with MTC for almost 25 years and served as its associate artistic director from 1990-2002. In 2002, he left MTC to serve as the producing artistic director of Charlotte Repertory Theatre for two seasons and produced nine shows, including The Miracle Worker starring Hillary Swank and The Glass Menagerie starring Penny Fuller. He then returned to MTC in 2004.

The performance schedule for Based on a Totally True Story will be Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 PM. Matinees on Wednesday (May 17 and May 24 only), Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 PM.

Tickets are $48 and can be reserved by calling CityTix at (212) 581-1212. For more information visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.

From Left: Carson Elrod and Pedro Pascal in <i>Based on a Totally True Story</i>.
From Left: Carson Elrod and Pedro Pascal in Based on a Totally True Story. Photo by Joan Marcus