Actors Circle premieres new work by local playwright
Playwright John McInerney is well versed in the principles of dramatic comedy. He taught them for years as a professor in the English department at The University of Scranton. But it takes more than just knowing the rules when you sit down to write. There’s no recipe for writing a script, he advised.
“You’ve got the characters, the situation, and the plot planned out but then it’s a matter of invention,” McInerney said. “As you’re writing, things take a surprising turn that you didn’t anticipate when you started out.”
The author of some eight scripts including children’s theater and the co-author of murder mysteries, the playwright will see his latest work Where the BLEEP is Poor Tom? premier at Providence Playhouse in Scranton this weekend.
The play was inspired by a 1987 visit by actor Richard Harris (Oct. 1930 – Oct. 2002) to The University of Scranton, he told electric city/diamond city. The Irish stage star famous for Camelot and, especially locally, for his role in The Molly Maguires (1970), is perhaps best known today as the original Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series of movies. He decided to produce, direct and star in his own vision of Julius Caesar at the Scranton Cultural Center during winter intercession. McInerney was the faculty liaison between the production and the University. The cast featured both professional actors and university students with local school children appearing as extras.
“As you can imagine, it was a huge undertaking,” McInerney recalled. Given the short time frame they had to rehearse and stage the show, he said, it was a “pressured situation.” And that pressure led to “unexpected and unplanned happenings.”
The “prima dona” movie star in Where the BLEEP is Poor Tom? has come to campus to present King Lear. The play’s supporting cast includes “the star’s tart-tongued ex-wife, a harried professor producer, an eccentric local publicist, a drunken professional actor, a nervous student actress, a director losing his cool, and an anxious nun in charge of parochial school children extras.”
McInerney completed the script about five or six years ago and then made revisions upon hearing the play read a couple of times at the University of Scranton. Among the questions it raises are the matter of whether the play will actually take place, and if it does, if it will be a disaster or a success. A second a subplot finds the young professor/producer, played by J.P. McGowan, debating an offer to leave his teaching position, at least temporarily, to work with the big star on Broadway.
Although McInerney has directed his own work in the past, most notably Secrets for Actors Circle in 1990, he feels most writers are better off handing the director’s reins over to another artist.
“When you’ve written a play … you have a very clear idea of what the characters look like and how they behave, and the temptation is to try and make that vision come to life exactly as you wrote it on stage,” McInerney said. “A fresh set of eyes can look at the material and see hidden opportunities for … staging the writer may not have seen.”
He’s happy to have Actors Circle’s Lou Bisignani directing Where the BLEEP is Poor Tom? The director is bringing things to the surface the playwright guesses he wouldn’t have discovered himself. This kind of collaboration is supposed to happen in theatre, he said. The director, designers, and actors become co-creators.
“Sometimes that can be a little daunting for the writer who sees the script as a child, but you must hand it over to these artists who bring their own creativity to it. That’s their contribution.”
Actors Circle presents Where the BLEEP is Poor Tom? by John McInerney at Providence Playhouse in Scranton Thursday, July 12 through Sunday, July 15. All shows begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 or $6 for seniors and $4 for students. Call 342-9707 for reservations.