It’s an odd thing to be in a conversation with yourself. Especially when that self is aÂ younger version of you. The conversation can cause problems. Confusions. Arguments. Embarrassment. For Padraic Duffy, however, it was about a creative journey. And the end of that journey has arrived. His play Copy receives its premiere at Theatre of NOTE tonight. He has been creating the script on and off for about 10 years, in collaboration with”¦well, with himself.
Duffy is a native Angeleno who grew up in Tarzana and has the easygoing charm of aÂ Southern Californian. And though he dabbled in the industry, his heart belongs to theÂ theater, and so for the past 15 years that’s where he has spent his time.
Like many playwrights, he was an actor early in his career. That changed when he attended college. “I didn’t really enjoy being in plays,” he says. “I enjoyed the community and creating something, but when learning lines stresses you out, you shouldn’t be an actor.”
He dropped acting altogether and focused on writing. And that was a great fit. “I loveÂ creating an artifact,” he says. “I’ve always been a collector. I love compiling things. I love having these objects that you’ve created and you go back to. That you don’t get in acting.”
After college, he returned to Los Angeles. Following a stint in the industry””doing production work and even audience warm-up””he turned his attention to the Los Angeles theater scene. He has worked as a playwright at A.S.K. Theater Projects, Met Theatre, Echo Theater Co., Sacred Fools Theater Company and Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, among others. His most recently produced full-length play was Puzzler, which he directed at Sacred Fools last year.
And now he is back at work on Copy“”which explores memory, loss and obsessionÂ wrapped in a darkly absurd office comedy. In the play, a man who has lost his catÂ wanders into an office where the employees are no longer sure what their company does. A laughing club is started as therapy in one of the office bathrooms. Soon, in another bathroom, a rival crying club is formed.
“I wrote the first draft of Copy probably 10 years ago,” says Duffy. It began as a conscious attempt to write something a little more mainstream than the more-experimental scripts he was writing at the time, something that might be a little more producible than his other work. “Try to make it only a few locations, not be in a nostril of a whale,” he says chuckling. But as he followed his passions and natural artistic inclinations, the play began to spiral off from more-realistic work into the territory he likes to explore. “It is my office play refracted through a strange absurd lens,” he notes.
For Duffy, that territory is the intersection of broad, vulgar comedy and raw emotion. He proclaims, “I haven’t written a play that doesn’t have a fart joke in it.” He contends that comedy can often lead to vulnerability and characters revealing their true selves. He describes the basic shape of his work, “Funny, funny, funny, and then (gasp).”
Over the 10 years, Duffy would return to Copy about once per year, either for a reading or just to check in with the play. As he read his drafts, they struck him as the work of an inexperienced playwright. “I would be horrified by what I had written,” he recalls. Reading his work told him how much he had improved as a writer.
But that’s not to say he has rejected all the decisions he made as a 20-something writer. The play has been forged from the creative tension between the two phases in his life and career.
“The 26-year-old me working on this was a complete explosion of what was inspiringÂ me intellectually,” he says. This included writing techniques from the Oulipo School — a movement that sought to create work using constraining rules. In Copy, Duffy created a monologue the character repeats, each time replacing words with other words via a formula. In a moment of tragedy, the audience sees the character struggling to express how he feels when words are no longer enough.
Though Duffy may have left some of the creative choices of the younger writer in the play, the mature writer has taken over the play’s themes. “I was writing about babies and miscarriages and things, and now I have a 14-month-old baby, I look back at some of that stuff, and I’m annoyed that I thought I could write about it,” Duffy says, laughing. “I have sorta grown into the topics that I was just exploring.” These days, that means exploring the emotional side of the play’s six characters, searching for the things that were meaningful to him, asking himself, “What am I really here for?”
The experience of working on a play about memory and loss isn’t lost on Duffy. “As aÂ play about looking back on your life, now I’m looking back on stuff,” he says. “The actÂ of playwriting is reminiscing in some way.”
He’s excited to finally see the play produced and is glad Theater of NOTE is doing it. He had considered directing it but was terrified. Instead, NOTE member David LM McIntyre has taken the helm. Duffy praises the intimacy of the Theater of NOTE space, as the 40-seat house will literally put the audience into the action.
The collaboration with NOTE has certainly been fruitful, but at times it has been tricky, he says. “There’s stuff in there that I don’t remember where it came from,” he explains. In rehearsal an actor asked a question Duffy found himself at a loss to answer, because it felt to him as if “some other person did it.”
When it gets down to it, though, the playwright has a few nice things to say about hisÂ collaborator. “I like the guy who wrote it,” says Duffy. “He can be annoying, but I’veÂ definitely taken control of it.”
Copy opens Friday. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Tickets: $20-$25. 323-856-8611. www.theatreofnote.com.