Theater & dance

Stages

Playwright LeFranc is having a moment — or two

“The Big Meal” cast members (clockwise from upper left): Peter Brown, Shelly Brown, Devon Scalisi, Arianna Reith, Becca A. Lewis, Alec Shiman, Johnny Quinones, and Ashley Risteen.

Joel Benjamin

“The Big Meal” cast members (clockwise from upper left): Peter Brown, Shelly Brown, Devon Scalisi, Arianna Reith, Becca A. Lewis, Alec Shiman, Johnny Quinones, and Ashley Risteen.

It’s kind of a Dan LeFranc mini-festival at the Boston Center for the Arts this month, and no one is more surprised than the playwright himself.

“I actually have no idea how it happened,” LeFranc says. “I was just told that these two theater companies were doing my plays. Until you just said it, I didn’t know they were happening in the same building. I had no idea. That’s amazing.”

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Attached buildings, anyway. Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston will produce LeFranc’s “Sixty Miles to Silver Lake” in the Calderwood Pavilion beginning Saturday. Zeitgeist Stage Company will produce “The Big Meal” in the Plaza Black Box beginning Feb. 13. Both are Boston-area premieres.

LeFranc was in Boston a few months ago for a meeting at Emerson College when, he says, a woman told him “it’s like the Dan LeFranc season” in theater here. “And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” he says and laughs.

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While he was a grad student in playwriting at Brown University in Providence, LeFranc occasionally worked with students at the American Repertory Theater, but otherwise this is his first Boston-area foray. “And now they both happen at the same time. It’s completely crazy and so flattering.”


The companies each set their schedule without knowing what the other had planned. Zeitgeist artistic director David J. Miller heard about the coincidence from an actor and dropped a note to Bridge Rep leaders suggesting some co-promotion.

“It’s pretty auspicious, and I think it just speaks to Dan LeFranc’s burgeoning presence in theaters of all sizes,” said Olivia D’Ambrosio, Bridge Rep’s producing artistic director. “It’s cool that two smaller theaters are the first to bring Dan’s work to this city.”

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The New York-based LeFranc received the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award for “Sixty Miles to Silver Lake,” premiered by Page 73 Productions and Soho Rep. He is the playwright-in-residence at Playwrights Horizons in New York and wrote for a year on TV’s “The Affair.”

D’Ambrosio had LeFranc as a teacher when she was a grad student in acting at Brown in 2009-10, and they’d read “Sixty Miles to Silver Lake” in class. It stuck with her.

“It’s very funny but it’s also very poetic. It straddles being a very realistic play and a very heightened theatrical piece, and I’m very interested in that balance,” she says.

The two-hander rides along in the car with divorced dad Ky (Barlow Adamson) and his teenage son Denny (2014 BU School of Theatre grad Kristian Sorensen), who’s coming for a weekend visit. Anyone who’s been on either side of that situation will recognize the forms of grumpiness and affection on display. The play’s first line is Denny’s: “Is there anything fun to do in Silver Lake?”

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Dan LeFranc

“I found myself very moved by these guys trying to know each other as a father and son,” D’Ambrosio says.

It sounds like typical suburban realism. But LeFranc has something more creative in mind. To reveal much more would spoil it, but suffice to say that the journey to Silver Lake involves a few temporal anomalies. It’s dark and joyful at different times.

“I wasn’t thinking about how can I mess with the audience, and I wasn’t really thinking how can I create something that’s really strange or structurally challenging,” LeFranc says. “I was actually really just trying to capture what it felt like for me to sit in a car with my father or my stepfather. That feeling of being trapped whenever you were in a car with your parents.”

Around the time he was writing the play, circa 2007, he helped his father move to a new home in a new state. They spent a lot of time in the car together, “and he would say something that would trigger something in me that would make me feel like I was suddenly 12 years old again.”

LeFranc suspects he’s not the only one for whom a conversation with a parent can make a person “feel like . . . seven different ages all at the same time,” a quote that may help audience members sort out what they’re seeing.

“That’s what I was trying to do with that play, to capture that feeling,” says LeFranc, who has not yet been asked for input on either Boston production.

“It’s not what it appears at first,” says D’Ambrosio.

Bridge Rep’s “Sixty Miles to Silver Lake” will play in repertory with “Fufu & Oreos,” created and performed by Obehi Janice and directed by Rebecca Bradshaw, which begins performances Friday and runs through Feb. 28.

“The Big Meal” has parts for eight actors — Woman #1, #2, and #3, Man #1, #2, and #3, Boy and Girl — and the cast includes several actors returning to Zeitgeist, such as Peter Brown and Becca A. Lewis.

“My parents actually met in a restaurant in Chicago, and my father is a big restaurant guy, and my mother was a waitress all the time I was [living] with her,” LeFranc says. Sooner or later he was going to write about restaurants. A producer suggested he read Thornton Wilder’s “The Long Christmas Dinner,” which inspired him, along with memories of his own family dinners out.

But “The Big Meal” isn’t exactly traditional. The script is printed sideways on the page, “landscape” mode, and each actor gets his or her own column on the page. It’s like a dialogue spreadsheet.

“The formatting is pretty unconventional, but that came out of my desire to find a way to really capture something very naturalistic, the crosstalk of sitting at dinner with my family,” LeFranc says. “They’re the kind of people who talk over each other, they’re really loud. That was the only way I could contain them.”

Those eight actors play multiple generations of a family and their guests, eating in “a restaurant in the Midwest, or rather, every restaurant in the Midwest,” as the stage directions have it. As the characters age through time, they pass from actor to actor. The characters date, marry, have children and more. Some eight decades go by in 90 minutes, along with a lot of food.

“You see a whole microcosm of a lifetime go by, and it certainly made me reflect on, wow, it does go by fast,” the director Miller says. “In the moment it doesn’t, but when you look back, wow, how did I get here?”

The two plays are very different, says Miller, but “everybody’s looking for interesting, up-and-coming playwrights, and Mr. LeFranc is certainly one of those.”

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.
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