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The Moth opens Stephen Collins’ “Super Sunday” tonight

April 14, 2011

You may know Reverend Eric Camden, the minister from The WB’s 7th Heaven, whose father is Colonel John Camden. Off screen, actor Stephen Collins has a war connection. “My brother fought in Vietnam for a year and never talked about. It was 30 years after he got home that we had our first conversation about it. He just didn’t talk about it. And my brother is not your typical Vietnam vet by a long shot. I was always fascinated by someone who could or would withhold stuff.” 

Super Sunday is Collins’ first full length play. He wrote it nearly 25 years ago without a roadmap. “I always discover what I’m writing about in retrospect. And I was writing about the effect on a relationship of keeping secrets. The play is really about a crisis moment in a marriage.  The crisis is always the straw the breaks the camel’s back.” 

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a blow-out so the husband comes home early. His wife is home with a fellow actor. “My wife, Faye Grant, was doing Singing in the Rain on Broadway. We didn’t have a kid yet and I had a couple of hours in the evening when she was at the theatre. I was taking a Sanford Meisner-style acting class with a very faithful teacher named Phil Gushee and had been doing this interesting exercise called repetition, which is the basis of all Meisner work. I noticed when couples did repetition work, sexual sparks could fly. Super Sunday was begun from that simple what-if.”
Collins was feeling a need to write. “My good friend, Christopher Guest, said to me, if you write something every day you’ll have a rough draft of something by the end of the month and it might be good. I wrote Super Sunday over a couple of months. Chris was right.” 

Collins was quite involved with Williamstown Theatre Festival in western Massachusetts in the late 1980s. “Nikos Psacharopoulos [who headed Williamstown for 33 years] was a friend and they had a play reading series as part of the summer. They did a reading of Super Sunday the summer of ’87 and I have to say the reading just crackled. Nikos was very taken with it to my amazement and delight. They did a full production the next year with an extraordinary cast – James Naughton, my wife Faye Grant, George Wendt, Mary Lou Henner and lovely new actor named Peter Gregory. It was directed by a dear old friend, Paul Benedict whom we lost about a year and a half ago. The Manhattan Theatre Club came up to see it and they were very interested in it.” 

Trouble was, Collins was beginning a new television series and didn’t have a literary agent or anyone who could shepherd the play into production. “The series was taking every second of my life so I put the play on the back burner, not realizing how bad I was at multi-tasking. The play fell through the cracks. Then I wrote a novel a couple years later, then another novel and I got away from playwriting except for a few one acts.” 

Cut to a plane flight a couple years ago. The man sitting next to Collins recognized him and struck up a conversation. Jamie Wollrab, a company member and director at The Moth Theatre, talked with Collins about LA’s small-theatre scene. “I was just amazed at what an incredible theatre maven he is,” Collins said. “He told me about the Moth and I did a couple of play readings with them. Somewhere along the line I mentioned Super Sunday. He read it and loved it and started doing readings and finding casts – and here we are.  It seems like a miracle to me. I didn’t think the play would have another life.”  

The Meisner Technique teaches actors to memorize lines without intonation or emphasis. Does Collins write that way? “No, I think I hear the lines very strongly as I write them. I might add a cue such as ‘kidding’ if I think it’ll help the actor clarify a direction. I think I like writing because it is so related to acting but so opposite. I try in the rewriting and winnowing process to get lines to the point where there really is only one way to say them. This play has very specific rhythms and they’re not accidental so I hear it very specifically when I write.”

Ross McCall and Alice Fulks

Collins recently dropped into a rehearsal for Super Sunday. He’s tried to stay away as much as possible, knowing he had to turn the production over to Wollrab and his actors. He seems genuinely surprised the play, after all these years, opens tonight. Waiting nearly 25 years seems inconsequential now that it’s happening, but he wonders if he made a mistake not giving the play greater attention after it went up at Williamstown. 

“I was in the original Broadway production of The Ritz and the entire original cast was invited to do the movie with Richard Lester. I was [in Los Angeles] and up for a bunch of big movies and didn’t really like the way it sounded that Richard was going to do the film. I thought, well, this isn’t the last time I’ll create a character on Broadway and get to do the movie. You think things like that when you’re 28. Fact is, it was the last time, so far anyway. That’s how I let this play get away from me all those years ago, not having someone to shepherd it.” 

Super Sunday opens tonight, April 14, at The Moth Theatre 4359 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90029. 323-666-MOTH. Written by Stephen Collins, directed by Jamie Wollrab, produced by Mara Tasker, with Ross McCall, Alice Fulks, Wes Chatham, Alex Desert and Jen Dede. $20.

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