When we first met, David S. Kessler was a small mammal biologist at the National Zoo by day, avid theatre goer by night. He retired, but Kessler isn’t the type to rest for long. He received our 2015 Audience Award, quickly moved on to writing and performing plays in Capital Fringe. With his newest play, Gwen and Ida: The Object is of No Importance, Kessler hands the stage over to three actors and co-produces with Nu Sass Productions.
- Here he tells us about it and inadvertently reveals a bit of what makes David S. Kessler tick.
I first encountered the work of late nineteenth early twentieth century painter Gwen John at the Yale Center for British Art 11 years ago when I was arranging a loan of Giant Elephant Shrews from the National Zoo to the Peabody Museum (but that’s another story). Her representational paintings were filled with mystery and a sense of solitude. I sought out her paintings, read biographies, her letters and notes.
Two years ago, at the Capital Fringe Festival closing party, I was sitting with a group of showfolk, and we had a discussion which followed the extremely logical path from TV shows to TV shows about school to Saved By the Bell to Our Miss Brooks to Eve Arden. This led Aubri O’Connor (founder of Nu Sass Productions, wonderful actor, and FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH) to tell me that I should write a one person play for her about Eve Arden.
“I don’t know much about Eve Arden,” said I. “If I write a one person play for you, it would be about Gwen John.” I told her a little bit about Gwen.
“Do it,” she said.
One does not refuse Aubri, her theatrical instincts are spot-on, so I settled in to procrastinating.
I had written and performed three monologue plays, but Gwen needed more. That’s where Ida comes in.
Ida Lupino, whom most know as an actor, was also a writer, producer, and most important for our play, the only woman director in Hollywood in the 1950’s. What if Gwen’s story could be told as a meeting where Ida pitches a Gwen John bio pic to Jack Warner?
Thus Gwen and Ida: The Object is of No Importance was born.
As I began writing, Gwen and Ida took over the process. I was merely the amanuensis. Their struggles, their creative compulsions, and, ultimately most importantly, their developing relationship with each other drove the play to unexpected places.
Five drafts in, I told Aubri I was withdrawing the play. It was unworkable.
Gwen and Ida: The Object is of No Importance opens June 7, 2019. Details and tickets
Aubri, remember, is a FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH. “It’s already on the schedule. We’re doing it.” (It should be noted that Aubri has no recollection of this conversation. My doubts are so numerous that she prudently shrugs them off)
Our director, Lynn Sharp Spears, wisely and firmly guided the revisions. And our cast of Aubri, Rebecca Ellis, and Matty Griffiths brought life, drama, and meaning to my words.
Gwen and Ida is not my play. It is our play. And we want to share it with you.
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