The Purple Rose Theatre’s next play, opening on January 19th, is Smart Love, a world premiere by Brian Letscher, an actor best known for his role as Secret Service Agent Tom in ABC’s Scandal. Smart Love is a dark comedy with parallel plot lines about the implications of artificial intelligence and a brilliant young man struggling with his father’s death.
Letscher: What drew me was this idea that we increasingly have the ability to recreate life. What does that do to our relationships? How do we connect, given that technology seems to be taking us further from connection? As the story grew, the heart of it became this family and this son who misses his father deeply, and finds out that the marriage was not what he thought, that his mom feels much differently than he does. And then how he comes to terms with that.
Is there something from your own experience that was a spark?
Letscher: Ultimately, you’re always writing about your own experience, whether you’re consciously are aware of it or not. It always seems to come to the surface. All of us that have families, you’re getting a lot of love, and a lot of support—hopefully—but you’re also dealing with things that aren’t what you want them to be, and the pain of that, and the forgiveness. As a father now I can relate to both sides. (Laughter) As a son I can relate, we can get disappointed when we realize that our parents are human beings. As a father I see the other side as well. I try to let my kid know that I’m a human being, that I make mistakes, and that I ask for forgiveness for those mistakes. At the end of the day, no one is going to glide through this world without making mistakes, without hurting people, and so what really does love come down to? For me that’s forgiveness.
Let’s talk about the process of getting this play from the page to the stage.
Letscher: I started this play about four years ago, and I wrote a whole other play with artificial intelligence in it. We had a reading of that play and I realized, “Wow, I wrote a play about artificial intelligence, but I don’t know where the heart is in there.” I’d spent a couple of months writing that play and I threw it away and started over with different characters, different setup, something that—going back to your previous question—resonated inside me.
I wrote a new draft and rewrote that draft and that’s what Guy (Sanville, Artistic Director of the Rose) read, and really liked. I thought, “Wow, I’ve got a pretty good play on my hands.” And of course I had half of a pretty good play on my hands! (Laughter) Which is what I learned when we had a reading here, and I realized, “Wow, this is where it falls flat, this is where I’m missing some things.” To have that workshop was invaluable because it made me drill down deeper and get more specific about what the play was about, and why it was important to me. I’d go back and write all night and come back in the morning bleary eyed and we’d do it all again. And it just got immeasurably better. They want to pull the best play out of the playwright.