A suburban house, two cats and a kid and you and your beautiful wife have long put the pursuit of happiness in the win column – just as the founders intended. But even if you nail down the cast of characters and the material goods to situate yourself in the sitcom-like setting doesn’t mean life is but a dream, and that’s exactly what Peter Welch’s “absurdist comedy” on the American dream explores in Thelonious.
Superimposed on the nightmare of a failing marriage, he says, “We are conditioned to believe in this, but a better way might be to surrender to life's unpredictable nature, rather than letting yourself be caught up in the trap everyone else is in.” says the writer/director of the play that’s being work shopped at the 130 seat theater on 161A Chrystie Street.
The idea germinated through his own observations of his relationships and those of others. “Just grappling with life, viewing the stress of marriage and chasing the American dream, he says, “it’s the juxtaposition of how easy it looks and how difficult it is.”
Never married himself, the play first took form 18 years ago as he was in a relationship that moved from steady ground to shaky and stifled his creativity when it fell apart. “I just stopped writing and filed it away,” he says.
The Manhattan resident would pick it again a few years ago and felt pretty good about the first half of the play, but realized the second half was not strong enough. At the same time, the passage of years helped provide perspective to complete the rewrite. “I look at life so much differently now,” he says. “I'm older and most of it is behind me so a lot of the mystery is gone. The good part is I don't have the fears about the future, which allows me to enjoy things more now. The bad part is - I'M OLDER!”
In accordance, the play follows Thelonious in spirit form where he exists to provide guidance. In turn, Carl tries to stay attuned to the apparition so he can accept the chaotic nature of the world and free himself of expectation and excessive life planning. “If Carl can unburdened himself of these things, he can follow his passions rather than constantly be dogged by self-examination and doubt,” says Welch.
Alexander Nifong (Glee and Pretty Little Liars) Larry Fleicshman (Beau Gest on Broadway, All my Children) and Reanna Armellino (Women of the Wind, Breaking Legs) had no hesitation at getting on board. “They are very confident in the play’s prospects,” said Welch of their roles as Carl, Thelonious, and Sandy respectively.
He’s also taking on the challenge of being both the writer and the director. “You don’t necessarily have enough distance to do both because sometimes the writer wants to hold onto things the way they see them in their mind so you have to learn to let go,” he says.
But he feels Thelonious serves its purpose as a workshop. “It gives me a chance to see it, and what else needs to be done,” he says.
Dixon Place also provides the perfect space. “It has some nice cache, while it’s not so big that you can’t take chances, which gives you the freedom to keep evolving,” he says.
A lesson he feels was reinforced in recently working with Joe Pantoliano in The Great Kills at the Theater for the New City. “He’s big on the process is never really finished, and that you got to keep developing, says Welch of the Soprano’s star. “This allows the piece to produce surprises that you never saw coming way.”
Pete Welch left with JoePantoliano in The Great Kills
He would certainly take that by way of enough people coming out to see Thelonious so maybe a full production could take flower somewhere else. But for the audience, he hopes the play helps them step back and reevaluate the approach they take in their lives. “It’s the preconception of what you think your life should be. That’s what’s getting in your way,” he concludes.
To purchase tickets