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

By Kenneth Jones
20 Mar 2013


Dale Soules, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone and Jon Rua in La Jolla.
photo by Kevin Berne

How much did you find yourself using your own imagination to fill in the blanks of the characters? There is a certain lack of what we might call "backstory" to some of the characters.
DW: The musical was inspired by the documentary; it's not wholly faithful to it. The demands of the stage are very different. As dramatists, we knew we needed to serve our own story and our chosen themes first. We saw the contest as a metaphor for the country in this particular historical moment; it tackles issues very present in the current culture, from the war over immigration policy to income equality and the slow erasure of the working class. We try to be true to the essential spirit of both the film and its subjects, but — first and foremost — we wanted to serve our own story.

Were there characters from the film that did not make into the musical? Are there composites or conflated characters? Are there any wholly original Doug Wright-created folks?
DW: "Yes" to all of the above. Some characters are conflated, and others — particularly the dealership itself, which we have re-christened Floyd King Nissan, and its two proprietors Mike Ferris [played by Jim Newman] and Cindy Barnes [played by Connie Ray] are very much our own.