“When Bill Cain calls and says ‘Do you want to come work on something?’ I 100 percent know it’s going to be a great experience,” says Suits star Patrick J. Adams. “I’ll follow him wherever he wants to go.” The next stop: the 20th anniversary season of the Ojai Playwrights Conference in California, the very place where the actor and playwright met 12 years ago.
In 2005, Adams was an up-and-coming actor on the Los Angeles scene, having just starred in the West Coast premiere of Edward Albee’s The Goat. Cain, whose Stand-Up Tragedy had transferred from L.A. to Broadway in 1990, was more established as a screenwriter and playwright. The two had never met, but it was Ojai’s artistic director Robert Egan who thought to pair them together on Cain’s newest play, The Laying On of Hands. They hit it off straight away.
Their second collaboration, two years later, was also at Ojai: Cain’s Shakespeare-inspired political play Equivocation, which the playwright wrote with Adams specifically in mind. “From then on,” says Cain, “whenever I write a play, I write it for Patrick.”
“[Ojai] changed my whole life,” says Adams. “I feel so blessed that [Cain] saw something in me that he still sees to this day. He just keeps writing parts for me.”
Adams returned to Equivocation for the Geffen Playhouse production in 2009, and it was there that he met Pretty Little Liars star Troian Bellisario, his now-wife. Because of the “key role“ Cain played in getting the two together, last year, the couple asked him to marry them at their wedding in Southern California. Cain, who is also a Jesuit priest, was more than happy to.
Since Equivocation, Cain has written a part for Adams in his war drama 9 Circles—a play the actor calls “one of the most important pieces that I’ve ever gotten to be a part of”—and has cast him as the lead in his most recent play: The Last White Man. The new work is inspired by Daniel Day-Lewis’ infamous departure from the National Theatre’s production of Hamlet in 1989. Adams plays the role of actor Jeremy Northam, the understudy for Lewis. Northam took on Hamlet after Lewis’ departure, and again after his official replacement, Ian Charleson, died during the show’s run due to complications from AIDS. While in many ways, all three men who play Hamlet are the center of the story, Cain says much of the focus is on Adams’ character.
Hal Brooks is directing the workshop production of The Last White Man at the 20th anniversary season of the Ojai Playwrights Conference, with a cast that also includes Zachary Quinto, Brian Henderson, and Zainab Jah. While there are no official plans for the play yet, Cain is confident that it will have a life beyond Ojai.
Adams says that his long-lasting collaboration with Cain is a “magical and rare experience.” “You trust each other so implicitly that you will allow the person to push you beyond where you felt comfortable going, and you feel confident enough to push back against them,“ says the actor.
Both Cain and Adams believe that this is where the true beauty of the Ojai Playwrights Conference lies: yes, it’s an incubator for new plays, but it’s also a hub for artists to come together and form life-long partnerships.
“Work is getting done and people are there to workshop these plays, but you also get to just be around each other,” says Adams. “It's about the conversations that you have outside the theatre. Or just after lunch while you're walking around the grounds.”
“Over the years I’ve been here, there’s a parade of artists that have begun to form an informal community,” affirms Cain. “All of the playwriting exercises help to create the play but the thing that impresses me more, is the support here—it's the kindness and the brilliance of the community here that helps to create the playwright.”
The 2017 Ojai Playwrights Conference runs through August 13. For more information on participating plays and artists, visit OjaiPlays.org.