This story is featured in the July issue of 519 Magazine, which can be picked up at more than 200 locations in Windsor-Essex, Chatham, Leamington, Sarnia and London.
I still have my ticket from the night I saw Post Productions’ performance of David Mamet’s play, Oleanna. The performance was mesmerizing. Michael Potter and Fay Lynn commanded the stage like Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks. I don’t envy any actor working with Mamet’s dialogue or emoting to his specifications.
Five minutes into Oleanna, my long-held belief was confirmed: David Mamet’s dialogue is like something written by an ADHD OCD Johann Sebastian Bach after eating too many Doritos powdered with angel dust.
I contacted Post Productions by carrier pigeon, complimenting them on the play. Being in perpetual used- car-salesman mode, I pitched the play I was writing – Shelter in Place. Michael Potter replied (via trained possum), saying they would be interested in reading some sample pages. I sent along twenty-five pages of my twenty-six-page manuscript.
Soon after, we met for coffee. Michael Potter and Michael O’Reilly had read the sample and said they were interested in doing my play.
All that was left was for me to finish writing it. Shelter in Place is set in a safe room inside megacorporation, System Systems. Meghan from the Wellness department is there with Reinhart from Logistics and Risk Management. Neither has any idea what the emergency is that brought them there.
For me, writing is like driving in a snowstorm. As long as I am moving, I’m OK. Every time I got stuck, I thought about the line Gene Hackman’s character has in the David Mamet movie, Heist: “I think of man who is smarter than me and I ask, ‘What would he do?’”
And I thought of stuff.
It wasn’t so much a bad thing that I saw Post Productions’ next show, True West, before the first rehearsal of Shelter in Place – but it sort of made me wonder: “What have I gotten myself into?” The performance was hilarious and haunting. The characters grew increasingly unwieldy and unhinged as the play progressed. One was a criminal, the other was a writer trying not to be a criminal. By the final scene, the criminal was shirtless, everyone was drunk and raving. There was a sudden, unnerving act of violence. Fratricide was attempted.
When the show ended, I didn’t know whether to applaud or call 911. I applauded… and reflected on Shelter in Place: My characters wore golf shirts and skirt-and- cardigan-combos. They worked in a windowless, climate-controlled office where they were never more than 75 feet away from a vending machine. Yes, while writing, I had thought of a man smarter than myself and done what I thought he would do. But was it enough?
Good news was compounded by good news when I learned that Fay Lynn and Michael Potter would portray Meghan and Reinhart. Around the same time, Fay joined Post Productions as Creative Director.
The Post Productions’ rehearsal space was a cool, pseudo-storage-industrial venue made available by a very generous business owner.
Being a Philistine with a capital “F”, I still had Fay’s character, Oleanna, in my mind when I first met her. I wondered if she would ask for my ID or inquire the last time I imbibed a
stimulant. Instead, she hugged me.
We gathered around a table, seated on mismatched chairs. Michael O’Reilly suggested we go through the first act and then would discuss.
Michael and Fay began reading. Before they finished the first page, I looked around at everyone, as though to say, “Are you seeing this? Is this happening?” Meghan and Reinhart were in the room with us. But it was the first rehearsal – a table read.
From the first moment, however, Michael and Fay were acting, and any doubts I had about the play working suddenly dissipated.
When they came to the end of Act I, Michael and Fay looked at Michael. He shrugged and said, “Let’s continue.” Before we knew it, Michael and Fay had read the entire play. And it was something to behold.
When Michael Potter read [REDACTED] he came shockingly close to nailing it the first time around. And when Fay suddenly [REDACTED], we all spontaneously laughed. And during the [REDACTED] scene, Michael and Fay interacted so naturally, it was as though they had done all of this before. And, of course, when I saw that [REDACTED] worked, I knew my play was in the right hands.
Matthew St. Amand’s Shelter in Place is being staged by Post Productions at the new Shadowbox Theatre from July 20 – August 4. Tickets are available online.