Interview: ‘Amateur Night at the Big Heart,’ play set in Colorado, hits close to home
May 1, 2012 | 1:01 pm
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 5:23 pm)
Denver playwright Terry Dodd is presenting his Amateur Night at the Big Heart at Aurora Fox Arts. It’s all about one night at the Big Heart Bar in Pueblo, Colorado.
The Big Heart’s patrons face the opening of another Country and Western Disco Bar across town. The show, which has been performed at The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities and at San Jose Stage, is co-directed by Dodd and Tony Award nominee Randy Myler.
Yours truly rushed to get an interview with the playwright.
I’m told that Amateur Night at The Big Heart speaks directly to the LGBT community.
Although there’s no gay character in this play, there just may be some characters who are on the fence. This is a play about relationships and people just trying to make it through the night. It’s set in a Country Western bar like Charlie’s and I think you’ll see lots of similarities between Charlie’s and the Big. The wants, needs and heartbreaks are pretty universal.
I know that your play Home By Dark was about your coming out to your Dad. How autobiographical is Amateur Night at the Big Heart?
This play isn’t as autobiographical as Home by Dark but it’s drawn from experiences with my Dad, who was a cop. Along with being a state patrolman, he was a liquor enforcement officer: Think cop for all things liquor. I would go to work with him and sometimes we would be at a bar when it opened and you can imagine who was there.
Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life in the early ’80s also influenced Amateur Night at the Big Heart. This is a tip of the cowboy hat to that fine production. It also owes a bit to Cheers.
Home By Dark was a very moving experience for me personally. Does Amateur Night at the Big Heart lean more into comedy or serious drama?
I’d say it’s a dramedy, not nearly as introspective as Home by Dark. There are lots of stories told on this particular night. People will relate more strongly to some stories than others.
By the way, the play is told in real-time like Home by Dark. I like that. It forces you to be honest.
The word on the street is that you have assembled an incredible cast for this production. Tell about these actors and the characters they portray.
The cast is awesome. Rhonda Brown runs the bar and Lisa Rosenhagen and Mari Geasair are a couple of buckle-bunnies – think rodeo groupies – out for a good time. Jack Wefso is Stacker, celebrating his 35th birthday this night and thinks he’s really hit ‘mid-life.’ Jude Moran plays a badass cowboy who faces very funny ‘revenge.’ Diana Dresser is the mystery blonde. Karen Erickson and Jack Casperson play an older couple, who help Marge (Rhonda Brown) run the place. They end the evening dancing under a full moon, looking up at The Starlight Hotel.
These are just a few of the hot local talents in the show. There are lots more local stars.
I understand that you are co-directing the play with Randy Myler. What do each of you bring to the table and what is it like to collaborate?
I am thrilled to be working with Randy. He’s loved the play for a long time and really has a handle on where the cuts are needed. Randy, who, as you know was a Tony nominee, really knows what goes into the making of a strong production. I’m proud to say he believes there is life for this show outside Denver.
Randy directed the first staged-reading of this play at the Denver Center years ago. Archie Smith and Kathy Brady were in it. The World Premiere was at The Arvada Center with David Ogden Stiers directing. The Arvada production had a great cast as well.
When the season was announced last year, Randy got in touch with me about directing.
Tell me about the look and feel of this production.
Like I said, think Charlie’s. We even have the revolving mirror-ball boots! There really is no difference at Marge’s Big Heart bar. If you thought the play is about a place you will discover it is ultimately about the people, desperately trying to relate to each other, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.
The threat of competition forces everyone to see the future for the place. We end with a couple dancing in the parking lot to “Help Me Make it Through the Night” and that says it all.