Friday, April 16, 2010

Grad Student Playwright Blends Comedy, Tragedy

When David West Read was in elementary school, he wrote and directed a little movie called Jurassic Pork.

“It was a parody of Jurassic Park with pigs,” he explains, laughing. “I had a weird obsession with pigs. I wrote a series of short stories about a pig-man and then made a movie based on one of those. Keep in mind I was pretty young.”

David’s still pretty young—27—and he’s got about a month to go before he completes his master’s in dramatic writing at New York University. But first he’ll be at SCR’s Pacific Playwrights Festival for the reading of his graduate thesis, a play called Happy Face.

No, it’s not about pigs. It’s about 20-year-old Wendy and her 17-year-old brother, Poots (at least that’s what everybody calls him). Their parents recently died in a canoeing accident, and Wendy is trying to find a job that will not only support them but also pay for plastic surgery for Poots, whose face is badly scarred from another accident—so badly scarred that he wears a Phantom of the Opera mask and has taken to living in a refrigerator box in the back yard.

If that sounds sad, it is—but it’s also very funny. After all, it’s from the guy who wrote Jurassic Pork.

In high school in his native Canada, David says, he was an excellent student, not to mention the student council president and a member of the jazz ensemble, the wind symphony and the school newspaper. His friends were the funny guys, though not necessarily the most popular ones.

Then in college, at the University of Toronto, he began writing and acting in a sketch-comedy show. He spent two years after college doing improv and acting in Canadian commercials and TV shows before deciding to study dramatic writing. His plays are much more serious than his sketch work, of course, but his humorous personality always bubbles up.

“[I don’t believe] all comedy has to be an absurd, silly exaggeration of life but that comedy is everywhere in life,” he says, “and especially in the most painful times.”

The idea for Happy Face started with his wish to write a play about a brother and sister.

“I wanted specifically to write about a brother-sister relationship that’s good,” he says. “They fight a lot and have a lot of problems, but they really do love each other."

Not coincidentally, David has an older sister, Robyn: “I pulled a lot from my own relationship with my sister. Even though there’s very little autobiography in the play events-wise, I think it comes from a very personal place.”

“Personal” is important, says David, who wanted to share this piece of advice, given to him by an NYU professor, with other young writers: “The best writing is writing that you feel slightly embarrassed to show to other people because there is something of yourself in there. You wonder: ‘What will people think of me if I put this out there? Am I giving away something secret about myself?’”

Come see what secrets David does—or doesn’t—give away at the reading of Happy Face Friday, April 23, at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 –  or two-for-$10 for MyStage members.

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