Rehearsals are breaking for No Way Around But Through, Scott Caan’s latest premiere, but Dot is through the lobby door first. Dot is Caan’s beautiful blue heeler/border collie canine friend who has mastered some pretty impressive tricks of her own.
“This play is about serious, serious issues, about people who are messed up since their childhoods,” says Caan. “It’s about a very strange relationship between a mother and a son and even stranger relationships with the other characters. The idea is that we’re all in trouble for a reason, and the big question is how did we end up the way we are? A lot of people never get out of their own way or never get free of their own issues to actually become their own person. Those are some of the issues of the play.”
Caan adds that there’s humor along with the drama. “My favorite thing to do is to take a subject that is very dark, twisted and upsetting and find comedy in it,” he says. “I mean the idea is to make people laugh and find the lightness, but underneath are some really deep, dark and painful issues. I really love to get people to think about things while they’re laughing about them. And then on the ride home from the theater go, “˜Wait a minute, that’s some serious stuff, it’s real and it’s honest.’”
The play stars Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner (Working Girl) Melanie Griffith. Caan says the second someone mentioned her for the role, he thought she’d be perfect. Then, the second he heard her at the play’s first table read, he couldn’t imagine another human being speaking that dialogue.
She plays Lulu, who wronged her son Jacob (played by Caan). “She screwed me up and made me the way that I am,” he says of their characters’ relationship. “The truth of the way I wrote the character””and I hope it comes across this way””is just someone who took her lickings in life and decided at one point, “˜You know what, I’m just going to be. I’m not going to sit in the hell that was created for me or I’m not going to go backwards and find all the things I did wrong and now repent for them. I’m just going to live. And if you my son or you my friend or you my son’s girlfriend are catching a piece of my issues or you’re getting the bad end of it, sorry, that’s life.’ So she’s just a really straight-down-the-middle, strong, quick, smart person who did not go through the issues, just kind of put them aside.”
Theater Turf and TV Surf
For most of the year, Caan lives in Hawaii, where he shoots the CBS series Hawaii Five-0. He plays Danny “Danno” Williams, a role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination in 2011. He has appeared in such notable movies as the Ocean’s series and has written, directed and starred in several independent films. But he admits his real love is writing plays and estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of the movies he writes start out as plays.
Caan is the son of actors James Caan (The Godfather, Funny Lady) and Sheila Ryan. He and his father appeared together in a movie the son wrote, Mercy; and he wrote and performed Minor Holidays, a group of one-acts, as a gift for his father.
Caan began writing plays when he was training at Playhouse West. “I had written scenes here and there or I’d come up with movie ideas and I’d write the first scene,” he recalls. “We were always looking for a play to do, and for one reason or another we couldn’t seem to find the right one or the rights weren’t available, or the play was too big for the theater. Or casting was a problem; Playhouse West is a repertory company, so you have to use their members. Finally I said, “˜I’m going to start writing,’ so I’d write scenes for people in my group. Every Thursday night Val Lauren, James Franco, Mark Pellegrino, and a bunch of really great people and me would show up for battle and put our scenes up. And the scene would turn into two scenes and then three scenes, and ultimately we ended up putting on our first play. And then from that I thought, “˜God, I can write a movie.’”
Caan’s play Two Wrongs, produced by Mineral Theater Company in 2010, has recently been published by Dramatists Play Service, and No Way Around But Through is about to be published. “To me the rewards of putting up a play are having audiences watching the performance and being in the audience watching actors say what you’ve written,” says the playwright. “But as an unpublished playwright, all you have is that run, and if you get a thousand people to come see the play, that’s a huge success. But to have a play published and know someone might produce your play in the future, to me that’s kind of the ultimate thing. And when I kept submitting my plays and they wouldn’t get published for whatever the reason””too small a theater or not enough reviews or not enough people came and saw it or the right person at the publishers hadn’t read it yet””in a sense it made me go, “˜Why am I doing this?’ Now that my plays are with Dramatists Play Service, I want to keep writing plays as much as possible and also go back and have some of my earlier works published.”
His Playhouse West colleague Lauren is directing No Way Around But Through. “I like to collaborate,” says Caan. “I like to get involved with like-minded people. Val and I have such a good working relationship, we can scream and yell at each other, and at the end of the day we know we’re both trying to make the thing as good as it can be. People don’t understand our relationship. They’ll see us get into an argument, and they almost want to jump in and go, “˜Wait guys, don’t,’ and we go, “˜We got it.’ I think it’s a really high level of respect. He trusts me and I trust him, so it never gets personal. In the case of No Way Around But Through, he’s truly the director even though it’s my material. If an actor comes to me and says, “˜What did you mean by this line?’ I’ll tell them, but then Val might say, “˜Scott’s wrong.’ And I’ll stand down. I’ll say, “˜Val’s directing this play.’ We have the luxury of me, as the writer, being here, but he’s directing the actors in a certain way. I asked him to direct the play because I trust him to tell the story properly.”
The Next Stage
Caan hopes to eventually have a theater of his own and is actively looking for a building to house it. “When I had my first meeting with Garry Marshall [TV icon and owner of the Falcon Theatre], I said, “˜Garry, I love what you’ve done here. This is my dream, to have a theater, but I’m doing this TV show [Hawaii Five-0] right now,’ and he said, “˜Keep doing it.’ He told me he had the Falcon Theatre because of a little show called Happy Days.”
Even with Caan’s active career, he has time to devote to his favorite charity, Surfers Healing, A Foundation for Autism. Caan says he has surfed since he was about 12, and now getting to surf in Hawaii is one of the benefits of his TV series’ location.
He explains of his work with Surfers Healing, “Autistic kids can get so obsessive about one thing or they can be so focused on something that everything else is so frightening. They’re some of the coolest, most intelligent, most amazing kids I’ve ever met. And something about getting them on a wave and surfing down the line of a big wave, all the stuff that stops them from going forward goes away. I’ve had kids reluctant to go out, and the first wave we get, their eyes open, and the minute we hit the beach, they point back out to the water to go one more time.”
Rehearsals were starting again and Dot escorted us out, but not before performing one or two of her amazing tricks.
No Way Around But Through, presented by Falcon Theatre and Mineral Theater Company at Falcon Theatre. 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank. Opens Sunday night, 7 pm. Fri. 8 pm, Sat. 4 pm and 8 pm, Sun. 7 pm, through July 8. 818-955-8101. www.FalconTheatre.com.
***All No Way Around But Through production photos by Chelsea Sutton