Produced by: Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by: Lila Neugebauer
Matt Bradley, Chad Goodridge, Gabriel King, Ben Mehl, Jeanna Phillips, Jennifer Regan, Thomas Jay Ryan, Danny Scheie and Robbie Tann When: Previews January 4-8; opens January 9; runs through February 3, 2013.
Where: Berkeley Rep, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, California
Tickets: $29-$77 (subject to change). Call 510-647-2949 or go to Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
and the 'Troublemaker'
for a new work commissioned by Berkeley Rep
Dan LeFranc, one of the bright lights of the world of new theater, is in residence at Berkeley Rep to put finishing touches on a new play, commissioned by Berkeley Rep, that starts previews on January 4, and opens on January 9, 2013.
It is titled "Troublemaker, or, The Freakin' Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright, an action-adventure for the stage."
Yes, it is personal.
"Absolutely," LeFranc said during a phone interview on December 11, 2012, while on lunch break from rehearsal. "There is a whole lot of me in this play."
There is a lot of the play's plot in that extended title, but be advised that Bradley is "twelve and two-fifths" and is not too happy about his widowed mother's personal life, and has lots of issues at school involving his behavior and conflicts with some other kids. He sees himself as a superhero whose task is to save his mom.
"My father left when I was five years old," LeFranc said, "So I have a pretty deep well I can draw on."
LeFranc, who is 31, has already known significant success as a playwright, including winning the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award for his play "Sixty Miles to Silver Lake." He has established a reputation for clever plotting and impressive use of language.
An early version of the script for "Troublemaker" (which may have changed by now, it's a work in progress) includes this advice in the staging notes:
this is a world full of youngsters
who speak their own unique brand of non-naughty language
let the following be your rosetta stone
FUCK = FREAK
BITCH = CROTCH
ASS = A
ASSHOLE = A-HOLE
SHIT = SCAT
DICK = DONG
BONER = LOGGER
BALLS = GRAPES
and it just kinda goes from there
LeFranc explains, "When I started thinking about my protagonist and how he might speak, when I settled on him being a 12-year-old troublemaker, well, I had a bit of a potty mouth when I was young. I would not be allowed to hang out with other children, because of my language. Kids together say things they won't say in front of their parents. It's important to me that they (his characters in the play) be unleashed, untethered.
"I very quickly realized this kid will curse a lot, but that would be unbearable. The audience wouldn't like it, they won't want to listen to it that much. "So, I thought it would be interesting if he speaks in a different vernacular. Sort of made-up curse words. From then, it just kind of went wild. There is a certain music to the way kids speak ... it was fun to write."
That fun with language - "music to the way kids speak" - and another instruction to the cast made me think of Shakespeare:
except for a few choice moments
this play moves pretty dang fast
play the action on the line
and don't be afraid of talking lightning quick
as a rule
if you think you're talking too fast
you're probably not talking fast enough
blaze blaze blaze!
These days, of course, we often see Shakespeare's plays produced in long stagings and movies that sometimes seem to take forever. Which sometimes works. But in Shakespeare's day, the plays were fast, fast, fast, as the actors must have blazed, blazed, blazed through the dialogue. No slow, ponderous agonizing over every syllable of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, for instance.
And no slow, ponderous agonizing in the no less dramatic life of Bradley Boatright, either. He has his mother's social life to worry about, and a vicious, ongoing war with his nemesis, Jake Miller, and Miller's goons, known as the "A-holes."
"I was thinking a lot about farce," LeFranc said. "And about an action-adventure story. ... there are very few action-adventure plays in theater. I avoided reading them. I looked for other genres. The break-neck pace felt like the closest thing I could find in theater to action-adventure stuff.
"Farce is usually linguistically dynamic. This is also true of Shakespearean comedies - characters in battles of wits. I am excited to go in that way. Our production is very physical, with an incredible team of actors, and really fun stunts."
So, how did LeFranc - who is, by the way, a really fun guy to interview, who laughs a lot -- become a theater guy?
"It's weird, you know," he said. "I grew up in Orange County (California). Movies were a thing I grew up with, were the entertainment that consumed most of my time. My mom was a theater enthusiast, but we didn't go much. We went to L.A. for the family shows, like 'Beauty and the Beast.'
"I grew up close to South Coast Repertory, which had some landmark productions that came through, but it just wasn't on my radar, so I didn't really know what the new-play world was."
But in middle school, his English teacher cast him as the villain in "Oliver!" and he liked it.
In middle school, and through high school - at Dana Hills High School in southern Orange County - LeFranc was in "something like 25 productions" as an actor, and had the opportunity to write his own scripts and do improv.
He grew up in beach country, but has come to think of himself who feels more at home on the East Coast, or in Northern California.
"I am not the tall, chiseled blond that flourishes in those conditions," he said. "I'm the stocky, brunette guy who loves to do stage. I tried to learn to surf, but it did not go well."
But, theater, that worked for him.
"We were always on our feet, doing something," LeFranc said. "It's hard to make a movie - expensive - but putting on a play, a kid could do that." And that he did, till he kind of burned out on theater.
When he went to UC-Santa Barbara, he said, "I vowed not to do theater. I just lost enthusiasm. I was interested in other things - writing, journalism, history - telling myself, 'Anything but theater.'
"But, a couple, three years into UC-Santa Barbara, feeling out of place - it was strange casting, to put me at a surfer party school - toward the end of my time at USCB, I got involved in the theater program."
And he liked it, again. He liked the other students, and he came under the guidance of playwright and professor Naomi Iizuka.
"Incredible teacher, writer, person," LeFranc said of Iizuka, who is now the head of the M.F.A. playwriting program at UC-San Diego. "She took me under her wing. She was the first working artist I came across, the first teacher who mentored me.
"Credit Naomi with me having a career. I would not have become a playwright without her. I didn't know about new theater, Broadway. ... All that was completely foreign to me. I was a Southern California kid, into movies and TV shows. She really empowered me. She changed my life."
His changed life now includes him becoming one of the leading lights of that new theater world he learned about from Iizuka. He graduated from the M.F.A. program at Brown, and has gone on to see his plays produced all over the nation.
When he finishes up with "Troublemaker" at Berkeley Rep, he will either go to one of the several other places where his works are being staged, or return to his home in Brooklyn, to work on various commissions.
In the meantime, here is the end of Act One of "Troublemaker: -- at least in the version I have:
...so what do we do now?
yeah right now
gets an idea
...we kick some freakin A
END OF ACT ONE