Playwright Larry Mollin rounds out his trilogy of plays set in the 1960s with “High Time,” a comedic window into Dr. Timothy Leary and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the psychedelic substance Leary studied at Harvard University and used to guide people on “research trips.” The play opens May 27 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, and will run until June 25. Directed by Randal Meyer, “High Time” stars Victoria Adams-Zischke as Mary Meyer, Autumn Chiklis as Lisa Bieberman, Rachel Claire as Rosemary Woodruff, Mark Coffin as Timothy Leary, David Henry Gerson as Allen Ginsberg, and David PB Stephens as Alan Watts.
“High Time” author Larry Mollin wrote and produced prime-time television shows for 30 years. He worked on shows like “CHiPs,” “Knight Rider,” and “Beverly Hill 90210.” His links to the Vineyard stretch back 50 years, to when he came to the Island as a young man and went to work for Goodale’s. After he was sidelined with an injury, he discovered the Vineyard Players in Oak Bluffs. It wasn’t long after that he hung up his foreign service dreams for what he called his “summer dreams,” a love of the theater that was stoked when he tried stage acting on the Island. After a long career in Hollywood, Mr. Mollin now says, “I get to walk the theater like I did 50 years ago. I feel very, very fortunate.” He expressed his gratitude to the playhouse for the opportunity to “live out those summer dreams.” The Times sat down with Mr. Mollin to learn more about of his new play.
What’s the play in a nutshell?
It’s a comedy at its heart. I call it a mid-expanding comedy. We’re seeing very smart, serious people really loaded, which has comic elements, but within that they’re trying to find themselves in the drug and they’re trying to realize their own human potential, which was the power of the drug [LSD].
Could you talk about the gestation of this play?
The play has been brewing in my head I’d say about three years. I just started researching Leary, and I got particularly interested in the period when LSD was legal and studied scientifically and as a tool of psychiatry, and when it stopped. I thought that was something significant, because once it stopped, once Harvard closed down the Center for Personality and Research, and once the federal government outlawed it, then the only ones who could get it basically were drug dealers.
What about Mr. Leary’s work intrigued you?
I’d read about the success that Leary had had (and others in Canada) with helping people with addiction — giving them another path to cure addiction. Leary had done an amazing experiment with prisoners, and really had fantastic results, had shortened rates of recidivism. Hardened criminals basically went straight. And he had done the Marsh Chapel Experiment also, which took a bunch of priests who were uncertain about their faith. Most of them said that was the most significant thing in their life as far as making them understand God again.
You had a connection by proximity to one of your characters, Mary Pinchot Meyer. Could you talk about that?
Mary Pinchot Meyer was a Washington socialite, friend of the Kennedys, JFK’s mistress and a friend of Jackie’s [Kennedy] at the same time, whose sister was married to Ben Bradley of the Washington Post. She would come up to Cambridge once a month and have a guided trip with Leary because she was learning how to give trips back in Washington. She was with a group of eight women who were starting to give LSD to politicians. Their aim was to change the culture of Washington. They got outed severely by [Washington Post publisher] Philip Graham. At a big convention, he kind of told everyone that Kennedy had this mistress that was giving him drugs. After that, they put him in a loony bin, frankly. The tragic part of her [story] is that she was murdered three days after the Warren report came out. The murder has never been solved to this day. She was shot one in the head, two in the heart, so it was very like a professional hit. Her ex-husband, Gordon Meyer, was head of covert ops for the CIA. So it always kind of smelled. When I was doing the research on it, a weird thing happened. When I went to school in 1964 at Georgetown University, my dorm was right above the canal, 300 feet away from where she was murdered. I didn’t know this at the time.
What will Islanders derive from this play?
It’s funny, for one thing. For baby boomers, they’re going to remember what this period was like. So I think it’s going to resonate with them. You get to see Timothy Leary in a new light. I’m not going to necessarily say in a good light. And I think it’s a fascinating subject — what these powerful drugs can perhaps do. Maybe it does open up some possibilities, but at the same time it’s kind of an anti-drug message at the end of it, certainly. But mostly you get to see some pretty darn good performers set in a pretty funny setting.
For showtimes and more information, visit mvplayhouse.org.