The playwriting career of Ben Andron — whose debut work, White's Lies, is now at Off-Broadway's New World Stages — began with a call most playwrights dream about: Not a dramatist phoning a producer begging to have their latest opus staged, but a producer actually calling a writer sniffing around for a new play.
The slim chances of such a conversation happening were goosed by the fact that the producer in question, Aaron Grant, and Andron knew each other from high school. Grant complained to his friend that there was a paucity of good comedy material out there, and if he could come up with a decent idea, there was a good chance of a production.
It so happened that Andron had a good idea, one he had been kicking around in his brain for a few years. Like many good ideas, it was based on reality.
"About seven or eight years ago," says Andron, "my best friend called me. He was single at the time and his mother was dealing with cancer. She said to him, 'I can handle the fact that I'm going to die. My one regret is that I never lived to see a grandchild.' He called me and told me that and I said, 'Oh my God, I'm sorry. That's brutal.' How big of a guilt trip can someone possibly lay on you?" Andron could see his friend was distraught. But he also knew a potentially comic situation when he saw one.
He wondered, "What was the worst possible thing you could do" when confronted with a dying mother's last wish? "Lie, of course. Say you have a child, when really you don't. Then, what's the worst thing that could happen if you had done that? You start to fall for the little girl who is pretending to be your daughter. It just sort of snowballs from there." Writers often use people from their life as models for characters. And those people don't always like it. But Andron was lucky. His best friend, an amateur actor, was so accommodating that he actually read the part based on him, Joe White, in the first reading of the play and in several readings thereafter. The Off-Broadway premiere features a seasoned cast, including Tony winner Betty Buckley, Tuc Watkins (of TV's "Desperate Housewives"), Peter Scolari and Christy Carlson Romano.
And the fraught scenario that originally inspired the comedy? Andron's friend's mother pulled through and is still alive. What's more, her son got married and had a baby boy last summer. There's a happy ending even Hollywood wouldn't dare to make up.