Spotlight >> Doug Haverty, A Playwright in the Truest Sense


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We are proud to have an exclusive interview with Doug Haverty, playwright for the new play “Aftershocks.”

Where did you get the idea for the play?

The inspiration of “Aftershocks” came from real life. One of the things the play deals with is a daughter (who was put up for adoption) who seeks out her natural born mother. This happened in our family. We were at a family gathering when the phone rang with news that my mother-in-law’s (long lost) daughter had located her and the question of meeting came up. I watched a sea of emotions come across my mother- in-law’s face. Up to this point I considered her to be a very hip, “with it” and modern woman. But when this long buried piece of her secret past materialized, she became ashamed all over again. She did agree to meet this person. You hear about these kinds of reunions all the time, but when it’s your family and you’re going to the airport to meet a new/old family member, it is very dramatic. I thought that I needed to try and write about this experience. One of my favorite themes is “finding family.” And this fit that quest perfectly.

It reminds me a little of “Thelma & Louise”

There are definite similarities, although the ending of my play is anything but tragic. (Also, in real life, this “daughter” has become a real part of our family and we have spent a lot of time together as well as vacationed together.) The two characters in “Aftershocks” (the mother and her best friend) are survivors. They weathered similar stormy marriages (with drunken and abusive husbands) and as soon as their children had “flown the coop” they ran away. But while their kids were growing up these women formed a bond, giving and getting support from one another. However, the character who put up a baby for adoption while in her teens never revealed this fact to her “best friend” and that omission becomes an issue in the play. My characters named “Daphne & Olive” are not wild and rambunctious like “Thelma & Louise” although they are very unusual.

Tell me about the cast.

In the cast we have Dorrie Braun playing Daphne May Potatski. Dorrie is a wonderful actress and we worked together last year when she played Lucinda Canterville in my musical “iGhost” (also at The Lyric Theatre.) Julia Silverman plays Olive McKay and I had seen Julia in “A Shayna Maidel” at Long Beach’s International City Theater and she was wonderful. Shortly after that, she joined The Group Rep and we just played husband and wife in their production of “My Three Angels.” Summer Harlow plays Beth White (the daughter) and previously Dorrie and Summer had played the mother/daughter roles in Neil Simon’s “The Gingerbread Lady” at The Hudson. Additionally, our director, J.C. Gafford, designed the sets and lights for last year’s production of “iGhost.” So, everyone has some kind of previous connection and now we’re all collaborating and it’s a joy to watch.

Don’t you usually do musicals?

I have written musicals, but my “straight” plays outnumber the musicals three-to-one. It takes a long time to write a musical (as least it seems so for me and my various collaborators), there are lots of re-writes and development processes and it becomes quite a time bandit. Co-written with Adryan Russ, one of my musicals, “Inside Out,” has been done a lot (three times in New York), so it’s made the most noise over the years. In fact, the Original Off Broadway Cast Recording (from the Cherry Lane Theatre) has just been re-mastered and re-released). That cast recording features Jan Maxwell who has just been nominated for another Tony for her leading role in the revival of “Follies.” Other cast members include: Ann Crumb, Kathleen Mahony- Bennett, Harriett D. Foy, Cass Morgan and Julie Prosser. The CD is available exclusively at Kritzerland Records:

What has been your favorite show that you have ever done and why?

Wow. That’s a tough question because, literally, plays are like children. How can you love one more than another? I could narrow it down to some of the most gratifying production experiences and explain why. The Colony Theatre did my play “Could I Have This Dance?” and it was directed by Jules Aaron. He assembled an amazing design team and cast and it was the closest I’ve ever come to hitting a homerun; where the bat connects with the ball perfectly and the whole thing seems to effortlessly sail out of the ballpark. That’s how that production came together and I watched every single performance because it was so beautifully done. I’ve seen that play done on other stages by other companies, but the Colony production was really magical. Of course having our musical, “Inside Out,” produced Off Broadway by Marc Routh and Richard Frankel at The Cherry Lane Theatre was pretty magical, too. That whole process and experience was surreal; being listed in the ABC directory of the New York Times, having the play’s poster sniped all up and down Broadway from the upper west side down to the village. Another astounding cast and every performance was a joy to watch. Last year I had a new musical debut (“iGhost” at the Lyric) and a new play debut (“Next Window, Please at the Group Rep) and those two casts were an absolute joy to be with.

Twenty years ago, I was commissioned to write a musical for Santa Barbara’s Access Theatre. Access used all kinds of challenged actors and presented every production for hearing and hearing-impaired audiences. Subsequently, all actors signed their lines as they were delivered; there wasn’t just one person at the edge of the theatre transcribing the show; the sign language was part of their world. Plus the cast had already been selected prior to production, so we were writing for specific actors. I created a musical called “The Legend of the Crystal Waters” where people communicated either by limb- speak, mouth-speak or mind-speak (sign language, speech or telepathy) or sometimes all three. And we created an environment where all the actors appeared equally. The audience had no idea which actors (if any) were hearing-impaired. It was very gratifying to watch that play and give that power to those people. Also, American Sign Language, when done in tandem becomes a beautiful expression of speech that is almost dance-like.

Doing theatre probably won’t make you rich…why do you do it?

Such a good question. Aside from the astounding challenges and the insurmountable odds, I guess it’s a way of expressing myself with immediate feedback. For instance, a few years ago my wife and I went to Zurich, Switzerland to see a production of my musical “Inside Out” at the English Theatre of Zug (they perform their plays in English). It was quite a risk for this theater and I felt it was quite a risk for me to come there, sit there, and be subjected to whatever their reaction might be. This is a musical about women in group therapy — they don’t have group therapy in Switzerland, only private therapy and no one discusses it openly. English is the third language in Switzerland, with most people speaking either German or French and my play was highly dependent on language and communication. How were these Swiss people going to react to my play? When we arrived at the theater, the director and producer met us and asked if they could introduce us before the play. I requested that they not do that because I didn’t want anyone in the audience reacting because the playwright was there. I told them they could introduce us after the show, if they wanted to. The play started and they had assembled a marvelous cast with actresses from all over Europe. So, to me, it was accent city. We had German, British, French, Polish and it was HARD for ME to understand my words. I thought, “Wow. This is going to be a long night.” But the audience seemed to understand everything. These bright and intelligent people who knew no language barriers “got” the play; they understood everything and laughed at anything that was ever even remotely funny. Someone watching without sound would have assumed the audience was watching a Neil Simon play.

My experience (particularly here in Los Angeles where I live) is that a lot of friends come to see the plays, so they are sort of pre-disposed to like it. But here I was in a foreign country where no one knew me. As the play went on, the audience became more engaged. They laughed, they cried. (It was sold out, in fact, it was oversold and there were people sitting on cushions on the steps in the aisles). When the play was over, the audience was wild with enthusiasm. It was like a rock concert. The girls came back for several curtain calls, but the audience seemed to want an encore; they couldn’t get enough of them. Then the producers introduced me and there was real genuine applause and appreciation. What other artist gets that kind of intense and immediate feedback? Granted there are other elements contributing to the audience’s shared experience: the acting, the directing, the musicianship, design aspects, but this audience was responding to something I created. That kind of rare validation is priceless. I guess that’s the reason why I do what I do. (By the way, I went to a second show the next night and it was the same thing all over again.) I accused the director of hiring people to come in and be enthusiastic audience members and he said no, that the reaction had been that strong every night, from night one.

On another occasion, a wonderful character actress named Diana Bellamy (who has since passed on) came to see my play “Could I Have This Dance?” I didn’t know her, but I did meet her a few weeks later and when she found out I wrote the play, she got all teary-eyed. She thanked me. She said that the play moved her profoundly. She had stayed afterwards to say hello to some cast members and then left the theater. On the way home, she had to pull over to the side of the road and cry her eyes out, the play had touched her that deeply.

What tips can you give to aspiring playwrights?

Listen well. I had one writing teacher that gave us a listening assignment. He had us go to separate restaurants or diners and sit in a booth and eavesdrop on the conversation at the next booth and write down every single word or syllable that was uttered in the next booth. We then typed up those “transcriptions” and read them aloud at our next class. They were hysterical. Nothing beats real, genuine life. Aside from the normal construction things that apply to most writing, I would say make sure you have a deep, thorough knowledge of every character (even back story that won’t make it into the play). And consider the “event” of your play. What is it that’s going make people leave the comfort of their homes, drive, park, throw done money and assemble in the theater? Make sure that whatever you put up on that stage warrants that journey and that your piece is the “destination” of the evening, not a distraction or amusement before or after dinner.

Why should some one buy a ticket to “Aftershocks?”

This is an usual play. It’s about friendship, about mothers and daughters, about following your dream and coming to terms with your past. As I said before, it’s about finding family; sometimes we find family by choice; sometimes we have to search really hard to find family. It’s difficult for me to sell the play itself, because I’m so close to it. There are some amusing moments, some very dramatic moments, some surprising moments and some touching moments.

I will say that the play is beautifully directed and acted, so if people appreciate those crafts and want to see a new play, it will be worth checking out.

The play won the Margo Jones Playwriting Competition and was given a production at Texas Women’s University as a result. The play was given its first professional Equity production in New York at the Long Island Stage staring Marilyn Chris. It has since been produced around the country. I have re-written it and I want to submit it for publication so we are cleaning up all the rough edges in this production.

For show info:

Previous reviews have said things like:

“Mr. Haverty’s play uses adoption as a metaphor to get to the universal human fear of abandonment and of how we manufacture myths to protect ourselves from losing what we have and what we dream of having … In spite of all the emotional rough and tumble, and scenes that would wring tears from a critic’s heart, the play ends on an upbeat … The characters have been stripped of pretense, and what’s left are three strong, loving women who share the conviction that they have survived the aftershocks of their own lives … Haverty has shown again that he can write scenes of great emotional power … and he is clearly a developing new talent of note.”
— Leah D. Frank | The New York Times

“While Doug Haverty’s new play ultimately comes down on the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture debate, it’s the intrigue and uncertainty of the nature side that gives this uniquely cathartic play its most wrenching and haunting human drama. In this straightforward but carefully layered tale of an adopted woman who seeks out her birth mother, Haverty has created an indelible character of rich, unlikely pathos: Daphne Potatski, a fiftyish Cleveland housewife who’s put an unpleasant marriage behind her — along with a certain premarital shame. When that buried shame shows up as a pert, thirtyish woman named Beth on the patio of the Sun Valley trailer Daphne shares with another marital refugee, Olive, it opens up old wounds in unexpected and difficult ways … The good cry afforded by Aftershocks—like the foundation of family identity, natural or fictive—is well worth it.”
— Rob Kendt | Editor, Back Stage West