On Monday July 21 The Actors Reading Room will present a reading of Lenny, a one man show about one of our greatest cultural heroes, the composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein. The reading will take place at 7:00 pm in the new Centennial Black Box Theatre in Centennial Park and is a free event.

Among other themes, Lenny deals with the challenges which faced celebrities dealing with homosexuality in the mid-20th Century.

Playwright David Rush will be coming down from Southeast Illinois with his partner, Wayne, for the event.

To get acquainted with David before he comes to town, I asked him to tell us something about himself and this is what he has to say:

What role did theater and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

Theater and the arts actually played a very small role in my upbringing. My family was not arts-oriented so, although I grew up in Chicago, I did not see much theater until I was in high school.  Then I would go into the city on Saturday matinee days to see the touring shows.  I remember most vividly seeing Inherit the Wind, Skin of Our Teeth, The Bad Seed, and Wish You Were Here.  These and other plays inspired me to go into the theater.

My evolution as an artist: our high school had no drama program except for a feeble “Club” which would produce one talent show every so often.  In my senior year I wrote a script for that show, which was my first produced work.  It convinced me that while I wasn’t sure I had the genius to become a dramatist, I knew I had the desire.

In college, I majored in theater and immersed myself in all aspects of the program.  My first playwriting mentor was Webster Smalley, who wrote a classic text on playwriting.  He taught me the fine art of recognizing garbage and revising. I earned an M.A. in Theater under the tutelage of the best teacher ever, Howard Stein, who taught me the fine habit of discipline. Eventually I achieved a PhD from the University of Illinois:  I was the first and only candidate to earn the degree with an original play rather than a scholarly dissertation. All this time, I continued to write plays and books for musicals.

Several major threads have contributed to my artistic growth.  One the one hand, I was always teaching playwriting—either in university jobs I held as an adjunct, or as part of workshop activities with Chicago Dramatists.  It’s true that when you teach, you learn. Also, for a time I partnered in running an Off-Loop theater in Chicago were we produced plays and musicals, some of which were mine.  I have had major productions of my work around the country and each experience teaches me a little more.

I believe I am still developing.  Lenny is my first attempt at a one-man play.  I am working on a couple of musicals, and have sketches for new plays in my notebook. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What inspired you to write "Lenny"?

As always, it’s a combination of factors.  I had read a fascinating biography which described his very complicated and intriguing personality which I thought would be fun to explore.  I am interested in musicals, and he has written at least two major classics. Also, I have never written a one-man play and wanted to accept the challenge. Finally, given the economics of theater, it is always a good idea to write for a small cast, and you can’t get much smaller than one!





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