Monday, March 26, 2012

Crowning the Prince of Atlantis

Playwright Steven Drukman rehearses the Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of The Prince of Atlantis with,
from left to right, Brett Ryback, Adam Arkin and Matthew Arkin.

By Kelly L. Miller

Playwright Steven Drukman is having a banner spring.  His new play, The Prince of Atlantis, will have its world premiere on the Segerstrom Stage in April, anchoring the 2012 Pacific Playwrights Festival.  And a reading of his newest play, Death of the Author, kicked off Manhattan Theatre Club’s prestigious 7 @ 7 reading series in New York in March.  Death of the Author will also be featured in Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Unplugged new play festival in April.

Drukman’s work has been produced all over the country, but his artistic relationship with South Coast Repertory began over a decade ago.  His play The Bullet Round was read in our NewSCRipts reading series in 2001 and his play Truth and Beauty was featured in the 2002 Pacific Playwrights Festival.

With The Prince of Atlantis, Steven Drukman is returning home—literally.  The play is set in his hometown of Newton, MA, just outside of Boston – in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Nonantum.  (An area known as “down the lake,” distinguished by its unique Boston jargon.) In this heartfelt comedy, Drukman tells the story of two adult brothers – Joey and Kevin Coletti – in crisis and on the verge of major life change.  

Adam Arkin, Nike Doukas and Matthew Arkin rehearse the Pacific
Playwrights Festival reading of The Prince of Atlantis.
You see, things aren’t going so well for Joey, one of the biggest seafood importers on the East coast.  He’s been incarcerated in a minimum-security prison for mislabeling certain goods and now, after 30 years, the son he never knew wants to meet him.  Joey asks his younger brother Kevin to help him—to put his son, Miles, off for nine months—until he gets out of prison.  But the situation quickly spirals out of control, when Miles shows up at Joey’s house unannounced, looking to meet his birth father.  Kevin enlists the help of Connie, Joey’s girlfriend and business partner, but there’s a limit to how far he’ll go to cover up Joey’s lies.

The Prince of Atlantis is a poignant and funny dramatic exploration of the nature of brotherhood, loyalty, love and families—old and new.  Faced with meeting his brother’s secret son, Kevin must decide how much of the past to reveal—and which secrets should remain untold.

SCR audiences first heard The Prince of Atlantis read last season as part of our NewSCRipts reading series, followed by a hit reading of the play in the 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival.  Actors Matthew Arkin (Kevin) and Brett Ryback (Miles) have been with the play since that first reading and actress Nike Doukas (Connie) joined the cast during PPF.  Veteran film actor John Kapelos (Joey) completes the acting company.

This world premiere production is helmed by director Warner Shook, a longtime member of SCR’s artistic family.  Shook has directed numerous SCR productions including last season’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir and Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart in 2010.

Steven Drukman—On Writing, Inspiration and Returning Home to SCR

With The Prince of Atlantis currently in rehearsals for the Pacific Playwrights Festival, dramaturg Kelly Miller asked playwright Steven Drukman to talk about his writing process and the inspiration for his new play, set “down the lake.”

Playwright Steven Drukman
I seem to always have "ideas for plays" swirling around but don't know how or why or when to write them down. The "when" is really important, as you don't want to start writing too early. Invariably I begin with character and never with plot, and I always ask myself the same three questions about my characters: What do they want? What happens if they don't get it? Why now?  Now that sounds like my writing process is really schematic—it's not, at least not consciously—but if I can't answer all three of those questions, the play is not ready to be written, no matter how rich the characters are.

The Prince of Atlantis came out in its first draft almost fully cooked.  I knew I wanted to deal with two brothers, Joey and Kevin.  I knew that they were the middle-aged version of the Joey and Kevin in an earlier play of mine titled The Bullet Round (an SCR NewScripts reading in 2001).  And for whatever reason, after writing a dozen or so plays, I felt suddenly ready to look at the issues of my being adopted.  Somehow that crucial emotional component converted Joey and Kevin (Irish in The Bullet Round) into Italians, maybe to accord with my genetic background.

And once I had the setting of Nonantum in mind—which is a largely-Italian part of Newton, my home town, but also on the other side of the tracks, so also NOT my home town—I had my play.  That double awareness—of feeling at home and not feeling at home all at once—seems to be the experience of adopted people. I wanted to get that feeling into the play. The language of Nonantum, the music of the Boston accents, the particular concerns of New England, the Red Sox fandom—this is all home to me and also something I feel like I left behind, as an adult in New York.  Once I took that on emotionally, and theatricalized it, a play with the singular plot turns and characters of The Prince of Atlantis just wrote itself.

Steven Drukman, Alan Flynn and director Warner Shook.
What's more, I love homecoming plays—Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is among my favorite written works, as is Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. and in those plays, the character who comes home always resonates most for me.  Teddy in The Homecoming. Biff in Death of a Salesman. And poor Vince in Sam Shepard's Buried Child, who no one in the family even recognizes.

It makes sense, then, that SCR be the right place for this play. It IS my artistic home. I got my start here, and have felt nurtured by this institution from the beginning. This whole process has been a homecoming, of sorts. Having Matthew Arkin and Brett Ryback with the play from the first NewScripts reading into PPF and now in production has helped put more flesh on the bones of the two central characters, and this entire cast and director and dramaturg and stage managers and everyone involved, frankly, have given this project a family feel. Please don't throw up when I say something like that, but sorry, it happens to be wicked true.

A great article about the research trip to Nonamtum, taken by playwright Steven Drukman, director Warner Shook and local consultant Alan Flynn.

For more about Newton, MA and the Language of the Lake, read this 2009 Boston Globe article.

Check out a glossary to the “down the lake” language used in The Prince of Atlantis.

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