PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Doug Wright, Fleshing Out Real People in Hands On a Hardbody

By Kenneth Jones
20 Mar 2013

Wright in early rehearsal for the show.
Photo by Terri Rippee

When adapting a documentary that includes elements from the lives of ordinary people who are still living, are there any special challenges or obstacles for as the adaptor? That is, do you need to get special permission to dramatize them?
DW: Amanda and I knew there were at least eight figures in the documentary whose stories we wanted to dramatize. Unfortunately, we had no way to reach them. Their full names weren't always used in the movie, and 15 years had passed since it was filmed.

Somewhat desperately, we sent the DVD to a private detective in East Texas, so he could locate them for us. Once we got a list of addresses, we hopped a plane to Dallas, drove to Longview, and started knocking on doors. Our purpose was twofold: to secure the cooperation of the contestants, and to interview them about their experience.

It was a hilarious, exhilarating trip; we found ourselves on porches in tiny towns like Gladewater, TX, saying chirpily, "Hi, we're Broadway writers from New York and we'd like to put you in a show, all because you entered a crazy contest 15 years ago at the local Nissan dealership!" Folks were shocked, but gracious. J.D. and his wife Virginia Drew invited us in for egg salad, and Benny Perkins took us on a night-time bar crawl through Longview that neither Amanda nor I will ever forget.

We've kept in touch with all of them. Virginia Drew just sent me a new batch of her home-made jalapeno jelly, and every major Christian holiday, I get a lovely note from Norma Valverde. J.D. Drew even built me a birdhouse, with a bent Texas license plate for a roof. And our whole cast at the Brooks Atkinson enjoys Facebook friendship with Benny Perkins. Continued...