PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David West Read, Playwright of Broadway's The Performers

By Michael Gioia
October 20, 2012

New York-based playwright and screenwriter David West Read makes his Broadway debut with The Performers, a new romantic comedy that sets lovers and friends in the world of the adult entertainment industry.



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Last season, David West Read made his Off-Broadway debut with The Dream of the Burning Boy at Roundabout Theatre Company's Black Box Theatre as part of the Roundabout Underground series. The play, directed by Evan Cabnet, centered on the sudden death of a high school overachiever and garnered Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Award nominations. This season, Read makes his Broadway debut with The Performers, a play on the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum.

Read's new work — again directed by Cabnet, who also makes his Broadway debut with the production — is set at the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas, NV, and stars Henry Winkler, who rose to fame as The Fonz on television's "Happy Days," as "the hardest-working man" in the biz. Read, who began work on The Performers during his time in the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwrights Program at Juilliard, admitted that he never thought a play about performers — adult performers — would get produced. However, with the encouragement from Tony-winning playwright and Juilliard professor Marsha Norman as well as the green light from producer Robyn Goodman, The Performers will begin life on Broadway Oct. 23.

At the beginning of this press event for The Performers, you said that you never thought this play would be produced. Why so?
David West Read: I think I was afraid that people would be turned off by the surface subject matter. The world [of adult entertainment] is scary to some people. But what I've been really happy about is that people have been recognizing that this is a big, broad comedy. It's got a lot of heart, and it's about real people and real situations. I've been really happy that it is getting produced. [Laughs.] I wasn't always sure it would be.

Cheyenne Jackson and Ari Graynor
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Can you describe the show in a nutshell?
DWR: The Performers is about these two couples — high school friends — who reunite at the Adult Film Awards in Vegas, and their relationships are put to the test on this crazy night. It's really about love.

Magic Mike: The Musical, based on the Channing Tatum film about the lifestyle of male strippers, is aiming for a Broadway bow in 2013. That film lived in the world of a strip club. What kind of world does The Performers live in?
DWR: Well, [The Performers] is kind of about the backstage life. It's like a backstage comedy that is set at this awards show. A lot of stuff is referenced. It's not explicit on stage. A lot of the humor comes from [the fact that] this is just their normal lives. It sounds kind of shocking, and it seems incredible to us, but to them it's just business, so I think that's where the world [of adult entertainment] comes in. It's really just the setting as opposed to the content. It's about two couples, and it happens to be set there.

So we're not going to see any Full Monty-type, choreographed striptease acts?
DWR: [Laughs.] I mean, maybe the curtain call! You'll see some skin. There's some great, amazing costumes that we've been working on, which show off our beautiful cast, but it won't be a Full Monty kind of show!

Jenni Barber and Henry Winkler
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Can you talk about assembling this cast — Cheyenne Jackson. Alicia Silverstone. Henry Winkler…!
DWR: It's been an amazing "putting-the-pieces-together" because we kind of picked up one cast member at a time. And, they're all our dream versions of these parts. They're all so distinct. They all bring these multi-layered performances. They're all hysterical, and I just feel so lucky to be working with such talented people on this.

This seems very different from the work you premiered last year, The Dream of the Burning Boy, about a high school tragedy, with Roundabout Underground. Can you tell me the differences in style between both works? Do you go through the same writing process?
DWR: Well, I think the main difference is that you're kind of clocking laughs [with The Performers] because we are aiming for the big comedy here, but fundamentally it's the same process — trying to make these people real. I think it's always funnier if the characters are real, the relationships are grounded, and it's actually about something. Even though [The Dream of the Burning Boy] is a quiet little play about grief and [The Performers] is a big broad comedy about the adult film industry, I think the process, for me, is kind of weirdly similar.

And, you get to reunite with director Evan Cabnet, who helmed Burning Boy.
DWR: It's so great to work with Evan. We did our first play together in 60 seats, and now this is a huge Broadway house. It makes me feel more comfortable. Evan is a great collaborator, and I think I can feel free to try whatever I want because he'll tell me if it's no good. We have that trust level, so it's really nice to be doing this. My first Broadway show, [and] it's his first Broadway show — it feels like we're in this together.

It must be exciting to make your Broadway debut alongside your friend and a cast of Broadway, film and television stars. Are you anxious? Are you nervous?
DWR: I'm nervous, but I'm also very cautiously optimistic because it feels like we've got something exciting.

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

Meet The Performers: