A Short Happy Ending for Playwrights From Broken Homes

PlayBlog   A Short Happy Ending for Playwrights From Broken Homes
Playwrights addressing their parents' broken marriages are often subliminally trying to affect reconciliations, and it has been known to come to pass — fleetingly in a single room — when their son has been designated Best New American Playwright.

Newsday gave Warren Leight that title 12 years ago for his subsequently Tony-ed play, Side Man, along with an award named after its drama critic of 20 years, George Oppenheimer, and his long-divorced parents beamed from the sidelines, one of the last times they were to be in the same room together.

“It was, for them, absolutely normal to show up after not having spoken for five years,” he recalled.

Their dynamically disintegrating marriage was originally depicted by a savagely abrasive Edie Falco and a Tony-winning Frank Wood on stage, but by this point their real-life counterparts had cooled a lot. “They were oddly proud of the play, and they each thought the other was depicted very accurately. Everyone asks me, ‘Did you write that play while they were alive?’ This seems to hold back a lot of writers. They are waiting for their parents to die. I wrote it, knowing nobody would ever see it.”

A screenplay for Side Man is written and in his desk drawer, gathering dust.

Similarly, a tentative reunion of exes transpired last month when The New York Times (which took over Newsday’s playwright-honoring duties) presented its second annual Outstanding Playwright Award to Dan LeFranc, who pointed out his parents with the clicking cameras in the audience. They were proud of their boy.

LeFranc was cited by Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, which was presented at Soho Rep in January 2009. Joseph Adams and Dane DeHaan reenacted a scene from the original production, playing a father and son in a long car ride. It captured, said moderator Jason Zinoman, “the horror of being trapped in a car with your family.”

“I knew I wanted to write about my parents’ divorce,” explained LeFranc, “and a big part of that divorce was the car-ride problem, which I think a lot of people who grew up with divorced parents went through. Growing up in Southern California, the only way I could think of writing it was putting it in a car, which is where I had the most formative conversations with my parents, so it seemed the most authentic way to capture my experience with parental figures.”

Most of the play’s 80 minutes takes place in a car, the father driving the son from soccer practice to his home in Silver Lake. They go through several different time zones spanning at least seven years.

Before turning full-time playwright, LeFranc taught at Brown after his graduation. “My standard playwriting class is called ‘Crafting Your Weirdness.’ It’s like taking who you are — the ugly muck of yourself — and finding a way to put it in play form.”

Among those attending this Times to-do were Valerie Harper, Constantine Maroulis, Awards judge Edward Albee, Tom Wopat, Dick Cavett, Steve Hayes, Jamie DeRoy.

— Harry Haun

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