Ashland resident David Hill’s play “Larry’s Best Friend” recently won the national 2011 McLaren Memorial Comedy Play Writing Award. I had the pleasure of directing the play when it premiered with the Ashland Contemporary Theatre in 2010. In his college years, Hill was mentored by screenwriter Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone.” We chatted at Boulevard Coffee on Siskiyou Boulevard early one afternoon.
EH: What is the dramatic action of “Larry’s Best Friend”?
DH: A man’s whole world view is challenged when his dog turns into a beautiful woman.
EH: “Larry’s Best Friend” had a tinge of the “Twilight Zone”?
DH: It’s finding extraordinary in the ordinary. We all experience a little disconcerting touch of unreality in our reality. Ambrose Bierce did a lot of that. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was of that genre. George Bernard Shaw did that, too, unreality mixed in with the ordinary.
EH: What makes a good play?
DH: Basically it’s storytelling. It’s got to be entertaining. It’s got to say something about the human condition. A play should have movement. A character should develop an arc. Something should change over the course of the play. All of that adds up to structure.
Dialogue is another thing. I like to listen to the way people talk and notice that they don’t answer each other’s questions directly. Everybody’s thinking about what they’re going to say next. You get realistic-sounding dialogue if it’s not ping-pong, back-and-forth, question/answer, question/answer, but actually question, and then something totally irrelevant, and then answer. That’s the way conversations go, I’ve noticed.
EH: How do you like working with actors?
DH: I try to turn everything over to the director and stay out of the director’s hair as much as possible. My words are not as important as the story and the characters. Theater is a collaborative effort. Everybody brings their own artistic vision to it. The writer is just supplying the raw data. What makes a play is what the director and the actors do. Not that the writer doesn’t have his place — it’s got to start somewhere — but theater is not like writing a novel or a short story where you expect your words to go out like an arrow and plunge into somebody’s heart. This is something that has to go through the visions of actors and a director. The writer that tries to get in the way of those visions is just dooming his piece.
EH: You revised “Larry’s Best Friend” in numerous workshops with other Ashland playwrights.
DH: I started writing this play in 2006. It went through major revisions with the Ashland Playwrights’ Project and with readings at the Playwright Actor Atelier. It was up to revision 19 by the time I submitted it.
I like to encourage new playwrights. That is what the Ashland Playwrights’ Project is all about, to try to build a community of playwrights. It’s very informal. You come to read your stuff. And be prepared for some severe criticism. “Larry’s Best Friend” owes a lot to the criticism I received from that group.
EH: What is it about theater that makes us all so passionate?
DH: For me, as a writer, it is the only kind of writing that gives you that feedback. When you write a novel, you don’t know what people are thinking. But if you’re in an audience, in a dark theater, you can hear people’s reactions. You don’t get that in anything except live theater. I live for it. I’m addicted to that now. There’s nothing like it.