PLAYWRIGHT AND DIRECTOR: TWO FRIENDS COME TOGETHER IN KEY WEST WITH “THE CODE”
There’s a special bond between a playwright and a director. One births the child they’re rearing together, the other guides its growth. The real magic happens when the two are close friends and both understand exactly what it is they want the child to be when it reaches maturity.
Such is the bond between playwright Michael McKeever and director Christopher Renshaw, both multi-award winners (multi-Carbonells and regional Tony’s, and Drama Desk, respectively). Both are now in Key West to introduce their progeny – “The Code” – to Keys theater-goers at the Red Barn Theatre. The play runs through March 25th.
“I’m a firm believer that all theater is a collaborative effort,” said McKeever recently. “I’m always open to what others can bring to a project and I had worked with Chris before on a project called “Wonderful World”. I like the calmness he brings to a room. We took a mutual respect for each other right out of the gate.”
Renshaw, headed to Broadway next year with the above-mentioned “Wonderful World”, directed the World Premier of McKeever’s play last year in Ft. Lauderdale.
“I love the play,” he said. “I find it very relevant to today for such a period piece, especially in these times and in this state. It’s funny, it’s engrossing, it’s forward looking even as it looks back – a real quality piece. It’s about identity and being who you really are.”
As an added layer to their mutual magic, Renshaw cast McKeever as the super-agent, Henry Willson in the premiere run last year.
“I particularly liked that,” McKeever said. “Just loved doing it. As an actor, it helps me be a better playwright. Especially on a new work. It really helps me tweak the play.”
“The Code” is set in 1950’s Hollywood, a time when today’s “Don’t Say Gay” was on steroids, and being openly gay was a death knell to a Tinseltown career. McKeever used real historical Hollywood figures as his main characters – former silent film star Billy Haines (now an interior designer), super-agent Henry Willson (who made the careers of folks like Rock Hudson and Guy Madison), and the brassy actress Tallulah Bankhead.
“I’ve always been fascinated with Billy Haines,” McKeever said, “a proudly, openly gay man in Hollywood at a time when it was extremely difficult to be so. I found him amazing and have wanted to tell his story. And then there’s Henry Willson, a gay man full of self-loathing, but with the power to make the careers of young men he liked. I thought, let’s put them together in a room – two men who are gay but completely different – and let them go at it.”
As an added touch, McKeever brings in firebrand Tallulah Bankhead, a woman who paid no mind to cultural and moral attitudes. The mix is incendiary and hilarious on stage.
“Having Tallulah,” said Renshaw, “a woman ahead of her time, as the connection to the audience, is brilliant. And I couldn’t have asked for a better cast to play them all.”
That cast includes South Florida Carbonell-award-winner Tom Wahl as Billy Haines, Key West favorite David Black as Henry Willson, Key West stage veteran Mary Falconer as Bankhead, and newcomer Carlos Ortega Amorin as young actor Chad Manford.
“I love Hollywood,” McKeever said, “and especially Old Hollywood. I’m a big, big fan. And I wrote it fearlessly.”
Tickets for “The Code” can be purchased at redbarntheatre.com/tickets or by calling the Red Barn box office at 305-296-9911.[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]