Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Mill Valley writer plots ‘cartoonish’ mystery play

During rehearsal of “Publish or Perish,” playwright-director John Byrne Barry of Mill Valley coaches Karen Clinton of Mill Valley (who plays Faith) and Bill Leeman of San Rafael (Jake Pope). Photo by Barry Wasserman.

During rehearsal of “Publish or Perish,” playwright-director John Byrne Barry of Mill Valley coaches Karen Clinton of Mill Valley (who plays Faith) and Bill Leeman of San Rafael (Jake Pope). Photo by Barry Wasserman.

John Byrne Barry calls “Publish or Perish,” his latest creation, “silly, cartoonish, over-the-top.”

Despite the play being a murder mystery.

Just what I like.

John’s not counting on a Broadway run for his world premiere. Or even an off-Broadway tryout.

“Perish” will, however, play way off-off-Broadway — at the Tam Valley Community Center in Mill Valley for two March weekends.

A family-style dinner will precede each performance, with dessert served during intermission.

John’s concocted a mystery writers’ confab at a retreat where scribes and wannabes have gathered. Since all deem themselves gumshoes, they verbally tussle while trying to figure out whodunit.

The audience, typical with this genre, gets invited to guess who the villain is.

The community center’s been presenting mock murders and mayhem for 13 years — what John labels “a fun and friendly family scene.”

Especially, he notes, since “it’s clean. There’s no swearing.”

John’s no stranger to writing, though this is his first play. His novel, “Bones in the Wash: Politics Is Tough. Family Is Tougher,” won the 2015 Bay Area Independent Publishers “best book” award.

That book’s — wait for it — a mystery.

About an Albuquerque mayor who “knows politics is like playing football on a muddy field — if you don’t get dirty, you’re not giving your all.”

The official’s task?

“To shut down voter registration drives and accuse the Democrats of stealing the election.”

Clearly prescient, I’d say, since it deals with the 2008 campaign, not 2016.

John, a 25-year resident of Berkeley before moving to Mill Valley four years ago, followed up last year with a second novel, “Wasted: Murder in the Recycle Berkeley Yard.”

He terms it “a ‘green noir’ mystery’ set in the “gritty and malodorous world of garbage and recycling.”

It’s about murder, betrayal and aluminum.

Yes, I am beginning to see a pattern.

John, 64, wrote his first book-length project in fifth grade in Chicago — “a 140-page treatise on dinosaurs. One page for each dinosaur, and lots of white space.”

None apparently were murdered, though.

As an adult John worked for 25 years in the Sierra Club’s communications department, where career dovetailed with ecological concern. “I got interested in the environment when I started riding a bicycle as a kid,” he recalls. “Then, in college, I got into organic gardening.”

John’s also written magazine and newspaper articles (including humor for the San Francisco Chronicle), political comedy and advice columns.

And now he’s working on a third novel, a family drama about euthanasia. The challenge, he’s said, “is to make the story entertaining and not morbid.” So he appreciates the chance to take a break and put on “Publish or Perish,” a playful put-on “only an 18-minute walk from my home.”

He’s found — being “pretty good at dialogue and banter” — that writing a play’s “far easier than doing a novel.”

It’s “much shorter. It took three months instead of seven years. It’s also, in a sense, collaborative: I had two readings, after which I went home and cut a lot. And after rehearsals, I cut even more.”

Penning a play has another advantage:

“It’s not just words on a page but I get to see my characters come to life — with the actors adding their own personalities.”

The show, incidentally, features an informal troupe of 12 local or ex-local actors.

They fall under the rubric Tam Valley Players, and are sponsored by the Tamalpais Community Services District (TCSD).

John leans on his own thespian past.

“I acted in high school and college, and in 1979 and the early ‘80s, I was in a political satire group — the Plutonium Players. We did more skits than plays, more like Saturday Night Live than the San Francisco Mime Troupe.”

But speaking of SNL makes him think of Donald Trump.

“The ‘host’ in the show is like a con man. When I started to write it last summer, I didn’t realize we’d have a president who’s a con man. The play isn’t political and Trump’s name is never mentioned, but the character has a little more resonance now than when I began.”

I’ve been attending dinner theaters for 60 years — some excellent, some not so much. Because I know folks who swear by John’s writing chops, I expect to thoroughly enjoy John’s imaginative invention.

Even his two-line Alfred Hitchcock-like walk-on.

“Publish or Perish: Tam Valley Mystery Writers’ Retreat” will play at the Tam Valley Community Center, 203 Marin Ave., Mill Valley, on March 10, 11, 17 and 18. Dinner will be at 6:30; the show will start an hour later. Tickets: $30 (dinner $15, show $15). Information: 415-388-6393 or http://goo.gl/fbgEVk.

Contact Woody Weingarten at http://vitalitypress.com/ or at voodee@sbcglobal.net.

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