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I’m With Stupid – August 14, 2015

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallIn my life, I’ve written four plays. Of those, only one — my fifth-grade class’s Christmas pageant — has ever been produced, and I have to admit it wasn’t very good.

I was told by my teacher that I had to write it, play Father Christmas and make sure everyone else got a role that allowed them to present their report on Christmas in another country. This made it difficult to develop characters and a storyline, and as a result I felt the play came off as trite and juvenile — or at least I felt that way in fifth grade.

In the years since, however, I’ve come to appreciate that pageant more and more, because for the longest time it looked as if that was going to be my only taste of success as a playwright.

My follow-up effort, written during my senior year of college, was so boring and pointless that I literally forgot all about it for 22 years until my old roommate uncovered a copy last year. That one, rightfully, never sniffed a stage.

My next attempt at a play was a Broadway musical that I actually think is pretty good. I have all the lyrics and the dialogue, and I have rough recordings of some of the music that two friends in New York composed based off of a cassette tape of me singing the lyrics a cappella and off key.

The only problem is that I can’t write, read or play music, and thus can’t do much with the recordings. The only other problem is that I don’t know anyone willing to bankroll a big-budget Broadway musical.

Hoping to learn from that financial lesson, I deliberately wrote my fourth play to be as minimalist as possible, with almost nothing required in the way of sets, props or costumes. I figured my only chance of getting a play produced was to make it so cheap that I could do it myself — not that I would do it myself, of course, but you get the idea.

I showed the play to a few friends, and they all seemed to like it, but it nevertheless languished for a few years and I’d basically consigned it to the realm of never-gonna-happen along with my musical.

But then, last year, a funny thing happened. I got a call from one of my friends who’d read the play, and he told me that he’d shown it to a mutual friend who recently had started a local script-reading group called Nimble Rabbit (named for Paris’ famed Lapin Agile cabaret), and now she wanted to read my play at her group’s next get-together.

Obviously, I jumped at the chance, and so Nimble Rabbit did a reading. One of the people in attendance that night was an acquaintance of mine who runs a local theater company called the Hudson Reed Ensemble. After the reading, he approached me to say he liked the play and wanted to produce it the next summer, which is this summer.

Sure enough, he was as good as his word and committed to getting it done. We picked the dates, secured my friend who’d set the ball in motion in the first place as the director, held auditions and selected a cast. And that’s when it finally dawned on me that it was actually going to happen. For the first time since fifth grade, I was going to have a play produced.

So with all of that as prelude, I would like to announce that my play, “The Generations of Tantalus,” will make its world premiere Aug. 21 on the grounds of the former Aspen Art Museum (there also will be performances Aug. 22, 28 and 29). And I would like to urge everyone who reads this to come see it, even if you have to fly here or drive up from Denver. It’s that good.

Actually, all kidding aside, I have a small role in the play, which we’ve been rehearsing for three weeks, adding jokes as we go, and I have to say that it’s pretty darn funny. I call it “a Greek comedy, tragically,” and if you like your humor dark and silly, you’ll get a kick out of it.

In fact, how about this: I guarantee you will laugh, or I will give you your money back. I’ll even give you double your money back. Scout’s honor.

So come on out and show us some love. All shows start at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Todd Hartley just sprained his elbow trying to pat himself on the back.

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