The working process of the creative mind is often a mystery. There have been volumes dedicated to revealing the secrets of it. On February 20 in Ambler, a chosen group of us got to see inside the creative process of Larry McKenna, local actor, teacher and playwright. Mr. McKenna is known for his very successful comedy, BURT AND ME, which ran recently at the Society Hill Playhouse and is having its Equity debut in Mt. Gretna, Pa. this summer. I hope to be reviewing that for STAGE Magazine.
Mr. McKenna treated us to the first public exposure of his work in progress, STRICTLY PLATONIC, a play, as the title implies, dealing with relationships. It does so by presenting us with the development of one relationship in particular. We start with the man we all love to hate these days: the male chauvinist. Sympathetically portrayed, this ex-jock is 15 years out of high school. We watch him, through eyes glazed with tears of laughter sparked by the sheer weight of wit of this play, trot along as his complacent, clichéd self until he is blind-sided by love in a fashion more literal than you will understand until you see the play.
Not blocked out on stage, the four actors needed for this tight, fast-paced piece sat on tall chairs arrayed across the set of Act II Playhouse’s current show, TIME STANDS STILL. The performers moved instinctively to indicate the overall motion of a scene but had nothing set in advance. Had I not spoken with one performer after the show I’d never have known they’d only read through the script twice before the event, the second time just shortly before the reading.
The actors were talented to say the least. But it was the strong, clear writing which permitted such well-timed and effective recital on such short preparation. This is the funniest play I’ve heard in a long, long. . .ever. It is a bracing deluge of comedy. Brilliant concept humor, gallant word play, one line poppers, the deep, effervescent intelligence of the comedy does not stop.
This play is also an example of why theatre is the most fully human art. As exemplified by this raucously engaging evening, the only ingredient necessary to create brilliant theatre is human beings. And, when in full array, theatre combines and orchestrates all other arts to accomplish its deliveries. It is all arts in one and yet the simplest to create.
In glimpsing Mr. McKenna’s working process, we see he is artist and craftsman. Secure in his talent and practical in his approach, a number of us were invited to the reading with an eye toward providing feedback Mr. McKenna desires in order to polish the play. The audience received five questions, and I hope he received responses from all of us. I know he got one from me. I liked the play so much I had the questions answered before I got them. My hope is he will find them useful and that some day I will find out how.
This is the kind of play live theatre needs now. Chokingly entertaining, it is the sort of play I’d recommend to attract the patronage of folks who’ve never considered setting foot in a live theatre venue before. It is not yet published, but watch for it. If you find it playing near you, see it. If you are a theatre company, perform it. It’s what we need.