As I’ve been hearing since before this season even started as the company’s blogger-in-residence, all the New City Players’ ensemble members set to reprise their roles from our 2020 podcast adaptation of Stephen Brown’s Little Montgomery have expressed nothing but enthusiasm at the prospect of revisiting their larger-than-life characters IRL in our upcoming production.
But if there’s anyone more excited than they are to see New City Players’ (NCP) take on this title, it may be the show’s playwright himself. As much as he enjoyed working with the company to adapt and help shape the audio-only version—which you can still listen to if you want to get a sneak peak!—he also admits that he’s since nurtured hopes of a further collaboration that would see the project’s potential fully realized.
“There was always the possibility of it,” he described, noting conversations he had at the time with NCP producing artistic director Tim Davis—who also happens to be one of the show’s stars—about the fact that this was a story that both were interested in potentially exploring further.
In fact, to hear the two discuss the process on the concluding “bonus episode” of said podcast, theirs seems like a particularly predestined artistic match, with the two first becoming acquainted after Davis was cast in a world premiere of one of Brown’s plays at Boca Raton’s Theatre Lab.
Playwright Stephen Brown
They then quickly discovered a shared sensibility when it came to theatre, with Brown describing Davis as an actor who seems to fit effortlessly into the worlds that he creates. So when Davis was grasping for a way to keep his ensemble artistically engaged amidst the starkness of the pandemic and landed on the idea of adapting a play into a podcast, a script that Brown had sent him happened to be the first he pulled out of his “to read” pile and a surprisingly perfect fit.
And so, when this season came around, the familiarity the company had already developed with the script made it a particularly easy one for Davis to settle on—and the pre-production process that then ensued a particularly smooth one for Brown to navigate. Between a meeting with director Michael Goia that Brown described as a “dream scenario” in terms of a shared vision and the fact that ⅔ of the play’s actors were already old pros at playing their characters, Brown describes a feeling that the core of the play was “already there” when the New York based playwright Zoomed in for its first rehearsal.
Yet if the ease this time around was undeniable, it was also somewhat hard won—as it took not only the inevitable few rounds of revisions for Brown to find what would become a final draft but a particularly dark period in his own life to inspire the play at all.
As he has previously described in the aforementioned bonus episode as well as in his introductory note to the pod, the idea for Little Montgomery came to Brown at the tail end of a particularly excruciating bout of writer’s block that had led him into a debilitating depression.
But even when Brown was making every effort to shut himself off from the world, his best friend still made every effort to get through to him, calling Brown every day to “forcibly” pump him up with “encouragement and love and sunshine and sparkles.”
“He got me through it to the other side,” Brown described.
So, when Brown finally did find that other side, he also found himself newly appreciative of the unique power of friendship to help us through the moments in our lives that seem as if they would’ve been otherwise unbearable.
In fact, his relationship with his friend was even the direct inspiration for the relationship between two of Little Montgomery’s characters—bumbling cop Larry and his goofy protege Chet, the role Davis is reprising. Though Larry finds himself increasingly short of hope between his struggles at work and his fraught relationship with his adopted daughter Megan, Chet is there to boost his ego at every turn—even when that means standing up to the two’s hardass boss to do so.
And as Brown found himself yearning to become part of the world again, he also found that many of his characters shared that yearning for belonging. To paraphrase the way Chet meaningfully describes an interaction between Megan and Larry, most want nothing so much as “connection”—to be able to reach out to someone and feel them reaching right back.
Stephen Brown Play- Everything Is Super Great
Though that basic equation is one that is often fraught with somewhat more complexity—for example, it took a few drafts for Brown to nail down the precise dynamic between Megan and her biological father Rick, which is marked by a great deal of resentment on her part as well as an innate synergy—it’s almost impossible not to empathize with the characters in the play who display that longing more nakedly.
Along with the ever-trusting Chet, there’s also Megan’s best friend Kimmy, who she refers to as her “soul friend,” to imply that the two have known each other since they were “a couple of souls hanging out in Heaven together waiting to get born.”
Furthering explaining the concept of a “soul friend” to Rick, Kimmy describes:
“And didn’t it break your heart into a million aches when they stopped talking to you for 6 hours?”
“Yeah,” Rick responds, seemingly in reference to his late wife Mary.
As Brown noted when reflecting on the deep friendship he shares with his own wife, the close bonds we develop within our romantic partners may be the ones society most easily imagines as having ultimate significance. But that doesn’t mean that the other close friendships we develop can’t be equally precious to us, and equally painful to imagine our lives without.
“There’s no one that could fill that void,” he described, again referencing his best friend.
Upcoming Stephen Brown Play, Jasmine Starr-Kid