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Playwright Robinson thrilled to see B Street giving ‘Carapace’ West Coast premiere

photographs by Barry Wisdom /
 

Dave Pierini stars in the West Coast premiere of David Mitchell Robinson’s “Carapace,” now playing at the B Street Theatre.

 

Writer’s block has stymied everyone at one time or another. Remember those fourth-grade book reports that had us biting our nails and chewing our pencils?

It’s no different for those masochistic enough to choose playwriting as a profession.

Some may attempt to lubricate their path to inspiration with hot buttered rum (heavy on the butter, even heavier on the rum).

A fortunate few, however, are able to navigate the blockade and find their way to an emergency slide. Sometimes said slide is an express ride that leaves them sitting with a good play in less time than it takes to compose a grocery list.

Count David Mitchell Robinson, author of “Carapace” (on stage through Feb. 24 at the B Street Theatre) as one of those lucky enough to have a muse on retainer.

“I didn’t do any pre-writing, I just sat down and spewed out whatever was on my mind,” said Robinson via telephone from his Chicago home. “It was the quickest thing I’ve probably ever written, as well as my first full-length professional play.”

What was on my mind was addiction and recovery, and what prompts an addict to share and tell their stories. The freedom to abuse substances or achieve oblivion through drugs or alcohol is the fullest expression of free will in some sense.”

Robinson emphasized that his award-winning play about an alcoholic sportscaster (played by David Pierini) and his earnest – if clumsy – attempts to reconnect with an estranged daughter (Stephanie Altholz) is no heavily sauced slice-of-life, but a flask-full of fiction.

“It’s less like a biographical chapter of mine – or anyone else I know– than an expression of what was running around my internal racetrack,” he said. “Addiction and recovery have always been interesting to me.”

The 31-year-old said the draft of “Carapace” that won the Alliance Theatre’s 2010 Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, and Ohio University’s Scott McPherson Playwriting Award was completed in approximately a week-and-a-half while interning at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre.

Not that it was all about inspiration. Robinson credits desperation as well.

“What happened was that I was supposed to present a play as part of my MFA requirements that I had turned in the previous quarter,” said Robinson. “But the play I had submitted wasn’t good – I wanted to set it on fire and set it out to sea.”

The result was “Carapace.”

“I was more surprised that it was good,” he said, “not so much that it came so quickly.”

Despite the positive responses that his rapidly written comedy-drama elicited from his core group of early adopters, Robinson said he walked into the workshop rehearsal hall at Ohio University not knowing if he had something good on his hands, or if he had “laid his biggest turd” of the year.

But the play’s critical and public reception – as well as the awards it garnered – helped erase his self-doubt, not that he ever leaves a play fully satisfied.

“Honestly, even now that it is published and theoretically written in stone, I’m not finished with it in my head,” he said. “I’ll never feel like anything I’ve written is ‘done.’ Every time I look at it, I see something to change.”

A self-described high school “drama nerd,” Robinson said he originally aimed his pen at a career writing for film, but ended up in a program that didn’t offer screenwriting as a major.

But playwriting was in the curriculum, and he ultimately fell in love with his ricochet romance, earning an MFA in playwriting in the process.

“The limitations of the form – its restrictions – I found to be bizarrely freeing,” said Robinson.

As part of his degree requirements, Robinson said he wrote a five-minute play every week (or a total of 70), as well as five full-length lays and two one-acts.

He said his body of work does have a commonality running through it.

“My plays tend to have a common objective,” he said. “It’s to try and understand – and empathize – with people who make extremely bad decisions. That’s at the center of my best writing for sure; people who just get it all wrong.”

Again, Robinson said “Carapace” (which is another word for a “shell” that protects and hides its bearer) is fiction, and that any resemblance to persons living or dead is mere coincidence.

But, he added, that’s the beauty of the art form.

“Theater is at its best when it takes someone who is extremely unlike yourself, and brings them in proximity to yourself.”

Robinson said he’s thrilled that the B Street – a playhouse dedicated to producing new works by emerging artists – chose to give “Carapace” its West Coast premiere.

“It is a very big deal,” he said. “I’m super excited about every publication or production opportunity I can get.”

Jerry Montoya, director of "Carapace’s" B Street Theater staging, said he’s similarly thrilled with the opportunity to mount Robinson’s play.

"Dave (Pierini) first discovered it for us, and was very excited to play the role of Jeff, the alcoholic sportscaster looking for a second chance," said Montoya. "Though it looked to be a challenge to produce due to its multiple locations, broken timeline and technical requirements (including a car onstage), it was a really lean, clean story with really no fat on the bone. It was very inventive, everything is motivated, very succinct, and it was clearly workshopped very well. I always appreciate a very strong and clear story."

"This may be my favorite play I’ve done in a while," Montoya added. "People are going to experience Dave Pierini in a way they never have before. I feel this is a tour de force for him."

For more information on the B Street Theatre production of David Mitchell Robinson’s "Carapace," or for tickets, click here.

 

 

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