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

By Kenneth Jones
20 Mar 2013

Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone and Jim Newman in the La Jolla production.
Photo by Kevin Berne

Everybody in the contest comes in with different motives and expectations and needs. The truck means different things to different people, as you point out in your program note in the Playbill — it's about manhood, money, making life and work easier, etc. Beyond the specific wish for that Nissan pickup, what one common thing did you and Trey and Amanda and director Neil Pepe point to as their unifying desire or "want"? What is universal, as far as you're concerned?
DW: Everyone wants opportunity. For people in rural areas, a truck can be a true vehicle for change, in the most literal way. In the last few years, we've seen the face of opportunity change in America, as the rich get richer and the middle class gets manufacturers uproot themselves to move obscure financial instruments and popular culture have become our chief products for export instead of actual, tangible things like cars, computers and appliances. The American Dream is predicated on the promise of equal opportunity, but increasingly it seems, the game is rigged. We're an almost wholly corporate culture now. But the yearning for opportunity is still innate in our character; how do we sate it?

I got the sense from the film that these "characters" formed an odd kind of family by the end of their 70-something-hour endurance ordeal, supporting each other, caring for each other — even though two days earlier they were strangers. Do you see them as a family? Did that idea come up in discussions with your collaborators?
DW: Of course. It's one of the most touching aspects of Bindler's film, and (I hope) our musical as well.

We long to see love stories in musicals. If not romantic love, I sensed bonds and affection in the film. Is there a complicated flow chart in your files that maps out the relationships of all ten contestants, and what each means to the other?
DW: In some desk drawer, I'm sure I'll still have those infamous, scribbled notecards I made with Amanda. We did chart the relationships in the story with painstaking exactitude. But the musical's premise was on our side; enduring something extreme together bonds our characters in a surprisingly short time, like soldiers in a foxhole. The contest lasts only four days, but significant relationships get formed, evolve, and even break apart in that time.