A damp gray chill has been sliding its way around the Island, keeping spring at bay and extending an off-season sense of quiet isolation. But this weekend at the Vineyard Playhouse the stars come out and the Island will be drop-kicked into the big time.
Three actors, whose long lists of stage, film, and television credits read like every actor’s wish list, are taking over the Playhouse. Debra Monk, three-time Tony Award nominatee and Obie and Drama Desk award-winning actress; together with SCTV’s Andrea Martin, two-time Emmy Award and People’s Choice Award-winning actress; and ABC’s “One Life to Live” Brian Kerwin, Broadway, film, and television actor, are performing a staged reading of Ms. Monk’s new play, “Dick & Lola.”
“It has poignancy, and yet it has a lot of humor,” Ms. Monk said, describing her play about a woman somewhere between her 50s and 60s, looking for the perfect man to bring her happiness.
In a phone conversation this week, Ms. Monk explained, “There are women my age who still believe that if only they could find the right man, or the right job, or the right apartment, or the right amount of money in their bank account” — her voice gains momentum — “or the right dress, or the right hair, or the right weight, or whatever, they would be happy. Dorothy [her character] believes if she finds the perfect guy all her problems will be solved and she’ll be happy. It’s a continuation of something we learn all our lives, looking for things outside of ourselves.”
She admitted, “I still think, ‘Oh if I only had that job on that television show everything would be great.’ We are not perfect human beings. We are always searching.”
Ms. Monk drew inspiration from composites of people she’s known and imagined, conversations with her friends — much different, she says, than the conversations young girls have on “Sex and the City.” “Andrea [Martin] and I are very, very close friends so there are elements based on reality, and elements where I took something we talked about and just went off and made up a lot of stuff,” she said. “Ultimately, no matter what we think we need in our lives, it basically all comes from within,” and added, “It’s a journey and it’s also very funny.”
While Ms. Monk co-wrote the Broadway show, “Pump Boys and Dinettes” (Tony-nominated), and “Oil City Symphony” (Drama Desk Award), “Dick & Lola” is the first play she’s written by herself. It resulted from a commission she received from her friend, actor Jeff Daniels, who has a theater in Chelsea, Michigan, The Purple Rose. “He instructed me to ‘Write, write, write. Don’t edit.’ And I did. It was his wonderful, generous way of getting me to sit down and write.”
Remembering the process, she said, “What was the most surprising to me is that as an actress you are in rehearsals and you know the script, but there is always that wonderful time that you can just go and not edit yourself, just go with what you are feeling. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing that doesn’t often happen in life. Life is hard. So as a writer, I wondered if that would happen. As an actress it happens because of the other actors, the environment, the director, the playwright, and as I was writing and just went off on an idea and let it flow I was surprised that I had that same wonderful feeling. Nothing can stop you. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the right words, but it can lead you to the right words. And sometimes I found myself laughing out loud.”
This weekend was the only time Ms. Monk, who lives in New York City, was available to present her play. She was scheduled to begin rehearsals for the Broadway revival of “You Can’t Take it With You,” a show that was recently cancelled because of lack of funding.
But as far as returning to Martha’s Vineyard (Ms. Monk starred in “Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing” at the Playhouse in 2008), she recalled how wonderful the Vineyard audiences were, and rhapsodized, “I certainly think there’s no more beautiful place in the world than Martha’s Vineyard. I’m so grateful to MJ [Munafo] and Vineyard Playhouse. I just love, love, love Martha’s Vineyard so much, and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to come here.”
“Dick & Lola,” a staged reading at The Vineyard Playhouse, Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21, 7:30 pm. There will be a brief Q&A with the playwright after the readings. $20 suggested donation. The Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church Street, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-6450.