‘Pinky,’ a play for the D&D romantic in all of us
Writer David Templeton knows what he wants from a night at the theater. He worked for years as a theater critic for the North Bay Bohemian, and also as a guest on KRCB and KSRO doing his “Second Row Center” reviews. (Index-Tribune readers will remember his byline as an I-T staff writer from 2015 to 2016.) In that time, he’s learned that for a show to be successful, it has to “make (him) feel something strongly.”
“I almost don’t care what it is. If it makes me laugh, I want it to make me laugh hard. If it makes me cry, I want it to make me cry hard — It can disturb me and shake me to the core. I just want it to do something on an emotional level,” he says.
That’s good information to have when sitting down to write a play, and Templeton has done a lot of playwriting lately.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Sonoma Arts Live will perform one of his works that’s sure to tug the heartstrings. The show is a romantic comedy called “Pinky.” The topic: unrequited love.
“Pinky” features a two-person cast, played by a married couple, actors Mark and Julianne Bradbury. Templeton’s semi-autobiographical story of his high school crush — and the zany antics he went through to win her over — will stream live from the Bradburys’ living room.
The show’s beginnings were in radio, when Templeton asked the real-life Pinky — yes, the heartthrob in question is named Pinky — to come on the radio and describe her version of the story. Her telling was different than Templeton’s, but it all amounted to something like this: Pinky had a list of characteristics that her Prince Charming needed to have. Templeton tried desperately to be worthy of that list. With the help of his friends, he staged a dramatic scheme to win her heart.
Evidence of his early knack for making theater, Templeton used staged sword fights, monsters, costumes and a treasure hidden in a shopping mall food court.
“That really happened,” says Templeton, of the creative plot he played out with the help of his “nerdy, Dungeons-&-Dragons-playing friends.”
Pinky’s differing account of the story was the inspiration for the play’s structure and theme that every love story has two sides. In this work, the characters describe their experiences in monologues that sometimes conflict and sometimes overlap.
Templeton began playwriting in high school, but hadn’t completed much until about a decade ago. Yet he had pages of notes of his ideas for plays, a lot of which he shared with others.
At the insistence of a couple of supportive friends, Templeton went to a hotel for three days to write a piece. His friends told him the first play reading would be held six weeks later. All of that happened, and his friends produced his first show, “Wretch Like Me.”
“Every artist needs friends like that,” says Templeton laughing.
“Pinky” and his other works were also written while sequestered. To write each play, Templeton stayed in the studio guest room of Moshin Winery in Healdsburg. Having places to walk and think, but nowhere else to go in tranquil, but secluded Dry Creek has been helpful for completing projects. When Templeton gets stuck, he’ll sometimes head to the tasting room and discuss creative issues with visitors. “Sometimes we’ll bounce things back and force,” he says.
Moshin has since participated in Writing Between the Vines, a retreat program open to writers in all genres.
“Pinky” had a previous production several years ago at Main Stage West Theater in Sebastopol. Templeton played the role of himself, and believes he succeeded in making audience members “feel something strongly.” Word got out about the Dungeons & Dragons and “Lord of the Rings” references, and D&D groups started coming in costume to see the show.
One night, a man dressed in costume approached Templeton and said, “Thank you for finally telling the truth that nerds deserve love, too.”
Templeton feels that the current iteration of “Pinky” will resonate with pandemic-weary audiences.
“At a time where the world is uncertain and uncomfortable, this is a good time for this play,” he says. “When you’re 17 and your heart is broken it feels like a death sentence, but it's actually just part of life. We get better at getting our hearts broken over the years, and we are going through a collective heartbreak as a nation right now. We can get through this, too.”
In “Pinky,” Templeton’s young characters learn that their hearts are resilient and “full of surprises.”
Templeton acknowledges the difficulty of producing a Zoom play. He knows there are lots of negative opinions about the effectiveness of Zoom theater, but he believes it’s worth doing. He draws a parallel to World War II England when theaters couldn’t turn on their lights for fear of attracting bombers. “Small groups of people would meet in small places with very low lamps, and they would do any kind of theater they could just to get through. This reminds me of that,” he said.
Zoom theater has actually provided some real positives for Templeton. Left Edge Theater performed a virtual version of his show “Drumming With Anubis.” The recording caught the eye of a respected New York-based theater teacher who asked Templeton for permission to perform it. The New York troupe put on their own Zoom production of the play, which Templeton was able to see from home.
In the theater world it takes multiple productions to become published with an agency that licenses the work. Templeton hopes this new exposure will result in a contract.
In the meantime, he’s happy writing and seeing his plays produced, “I’m just grateful that my stories are being told and that people are seeing them in one way or another.”