Even on the phone, the love that flows between playwright Ryan J. Haddad and director Danny Sharron is palpable. It's a deep friendship that has led to a fruitful collaboration.
The two clicked in an instant at Williamstown Theatre Festival six years ago, a meeting that bore Haddad’s new play Good Time Charlie. The play is part of the development readings series presented by Pride Plays this June.
“I felt like we immediately connected,” says Sharron. “Both of us are queer, both of us are Middle Eastern, and there was something about our upbringings, or the fabrics of our identity that are similar.”
Those similarities, plus a love for new theatre (Sharron rarely directs existing works and Haddad focuses on plays that shed light on communities often brushed aside) brought them together, but a rare openness strengthens their partnership.
Good Time Charlie doesn’t exactly follow convention. “The play has no rules! There is no logic,” says Haddad, prompting laughter from all sides during a recent interview with Playbill.
A lack of structure is not Sharron’s M.O., however. “I have a very cerebral take on things. I get very in my head and Ryan lives in his heart and in his body.”
The pair say the yin-and-yang of their relationship is why it thrives. While Haddad pushes the limits of what he can do as a writer, Sharron helps him dramaturgically by zeroing in on dialogue and subtext.
“I’ve had many an existential crisis about this play,” admits Haddad. “If Danny had not been there, I probably would've just hit delete and stopped writing, so I’m very grateful to him.”
It goes both ways. Sometimes Sharron seeks over-clarity and that’s when Haddad comes in. “Ryan is really good at saying, ‘Ok, I hear you, but maybe we don't actually need to make that thing clear. Let’s let the audience experience that for themselves and not dictate what’s going on,” the director explains.
This give-and-take keeps the pair at work on Good Time Charlie, which has been seen at in-person workshops four times already. “Every time we do it, I'm like, ‘Oh my god, we're so close, it's nearly there,’ but there is always, always more work to do” says Haddad.
The play is an autobiographical comedy that explores Haddad’s connection to a real family member named Charlie, whose formative gay years took place in the 1980s—a less social atmosphere compared to Haddad’s coming out in the 2000s.
“It’s a tribute to him and our relationship,” says the playwright. “He's been a formidable gay mentor to me. His unapologetically being himself allowed me the space to come into my identity both as a gay man and as a performer, somebody who was hungry to be in the theatre. For him, it's a little more complicated, because he had to break down the door in our family. And now, I’m sort of reaping the rewards for that. The play is set up to be his moment in the spotlight but the character of Charlie comes at odds with Ryan about the way the story gets to be told.”
When the play opens up, the character Ryan directly addresses the audience. Gradually more family members come on stage, as they try to figure out whose story they’re telling—and who gets to tell it. “It's a funny, joyful love letter to family and theatre at the same time,” adds Haddad.
The Pride Plays digital presentation allows the piece to be seen in a new light. “We’ve yet to be involved in something that's exclusively queer programming,” says Sharron. “There’s something nice about that because this is a very capital Q queer play.”
For Haddad, the opportunity to work with actors outside of New York is what’s exciting. The playwright is also eager to develop his own performance compared to his earlier work, all of which are solo shows. In this world of Good Time, Charlie, the character Ryan is actually one of the more subdued characters while everyone around him is giant and big. “I'm excited to go a little smaller this time because we're on webcams, as opposed to caking on the camp and the heightened sense of who I am when I'm playing a character.”
While it may be capital Q queer, the play also integrates other underrepresented communities.
“This is a Lebanese-American family and it has a major player in it that is disabled,” says Haddad. “I have cerebral palsy and I have a walker. This play is not about my disability and it's also not about our Middle Eastern-American identity at all, in either respect, but both of those things are true. So what's exciting is that it's not just a gay male play, as so many in the American theatre are, it's a play that gives voice to intersectionality, which we don't always see.”
“It's woven into the piece without being the leading factor,” adds Sharron. “Those things inevitably factor into the way the scenes are written and the way the action plays out.”
Another thing that’s inevitable? The emergence of more brilliant work from this dynamic duo.