Remember when play readings used to be rather clunky affairs? Actors struggling to find a dropped line, characters clomping to their appointed lecterns, talking over one another, apologizing for mistakes?
Perhaps — no, assuredly — clunky play readings still go on all over the country, and if the script is fine and dandy, it hardly matters; talent and promise win out. The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, under the artistic direction of the ever-creative MJ Munafo, has developed a playreading forum under the aegis of the Monday Night Special, one per week throughout the summer season, some of them taking on a theatrical star from the concurrently running play, that makes every effort to showcase a new play for our imaginations to wrap around, and see it in its eventual glory.
And so it was on a recent Monday evening. Larry Mollin, former television writer and producer — most famously known for his years as executive producer on “Beverly Hills 90210” — and longtime summer resident, in his seasoned, sager years has written a trio of plays, all produced here at the playhouse, and in New York, London, and Los Angeles. Mr. Mollin is back on-Island (he and wife Dee have a house in Vineyard Haven), and he arrives with a fourth stroke of invention: “Please Come to Boston.”
How do we create? Academics and professional critics try to explain it, indeed devote books to it, launch studies, give college courses on the subject, but the actual artists behind the creation will shrug and say something unhelpful and yet true such as, “It just came to me!”
That’s what old-school folk song composer Dave Loggins of Tennessee told Mr. Mollin when the playwright tracked him down with the intention of making one of his old songs the subject of a play. The song is named, prosaically enough, “Please Come to Boston,” as a songwriter begs his true love from the hollers to join him in various big towns to pursue his career.
On Monday evening, August 7, in the follow-up Q and A, Mr. Mollin explained to the audience, “I wanted to take a whole, finished song, break it down, and reconstruct it from the start, in all its early flaws, following the thread of a tragicomic love story, until it became one perfect song.”
In the Malibu hills of the early 1970s, with a distant view of the sea, and raked by the Santa Ana winds, hot and crazy-making, an aspiring songwriter (Myk Watford), his neglected-by-art wife (Stephanie Cozart) with [imaginary] babe in arms, struggles to produce a love song for his pushy manager (David PB Stephens). We see the composer grappling with a decent melody with initially lame lyrics, until he slowly builds a real story and memorable lyrics reflecting the very real events of his life.
And here’s the jaw-dropping reality of the play: As we go through one wooden word to a throbbingly rich passage, we in the audience are, subliminally, part of the process. It’s as if we’re all birthing the song together. The song itself is the main character, and in the meantime, it’s joined by a somewhat spooky muse and sexy teen next-door neighbor (Bex). On the far stage left, Larry Mollin’s talented composer brother Fred Mollin sits and waits, guitar in lap, ready to jump in at the end as the music king for whom the song is auditioned over the telephone. And here’s a cool extra in what would normally be a mere reading: The songwriter plays a real guitar, his wife sings gorgeously when accompaniment is required, and the muse/ghost of a neighbor tickles the ivories of an upright piano, sings, and prods the bemused composer to try harder, do better, until a great song fills the theater.
Also vital to the spirit of the production are director Randal Myler, stage manager Christine Lomaka, and sound technician Carl Gosselin.
Upcoming Monday Night Specials include “She Exits Laughing” by Marisa Smith (40something Julie flees her marriage and moves in with her widowed mother — a comedy about how it’s never too late for anything) on August 21. “The Eleventh Hour” by Cathy Tempelsman (a young woman seeks the truth about her brother’s death on the last day of WWI. Based on a highly partisan investigation into the Army’s treatment of American soldiers) takes the stage August 28.
And don’t miss the featured third play of the season, running through Sept. 2, “Who You See Here,” a new comedy by Matt Hoverman and directed by Jeanie Hackett.
For tickets to any of these shows, visit mvplayhouse.org.