Bicoastal playwright Kathryn Graf has returned to Los Angeles from her home in Connecticut for the premiere of her Hermetically Sealed, opening October 22 at the Skylight Theatre.
“The plot of Hermetically Sealed centers on the dysfunction I was going through in Connecticut,” Graf says. She moved there three years ago. “I sat upstairs writing. My son, who didn’t know anybody in town, would play video games day in and day out, and I decided I had to make something out of this. A play seemed the obvious choice.”
Graf was a performer before she started writing plays.Â She wrote and performed the award-winning solo show Surviving David, chronicling her first year as a young widow after the loss of her husband, actor David Graf.Â “I don’t have a strong desire to perform anymore,” Graf says. “The writing is so creative and I get to do it anytime I want to, in any environment.”
Before finding the title Hermetically Sealed, Graf says, “I didn’t want to make the central character a writer, so I called up a friend who was a baker and I tried out the idea that my protagonist was a pastry chef who worked for a caterer. She was very helpful,” Graf continues, “and told me about how eggs are hermetically sealed and that they’re safe and sound in their own little world. And I thought, perfect.
“There are five characters in the play: a mother and two sons, including a precocious 15-year-old. The mother’s boss and husband are also involved.Â It takes place in a generic town located in an area that resembles the Pennsylvania countryside.”
She maintains that “the play really wrote itself. I’d walk in the woods, I’d come home, and the muse was there and it was suddenly done.”
“It’s a reveal play,” Graf continues, “about secrets carefully kept.Â But there’s a lot of comedy in the play. It’s about a family balanced very, very carefully, and then two intruders come over in the afternoon and threaten to unravel that equilibrium. These intrusive characters are really obnoxious people that the family knows, and they force the family to assess how to keep that balance as it’s trying to be interrupted.”
The play is “very heartfelt” and “very pro-child,” Graf says, “yet it plays like a whodunit. The audience is going to ask itself, ‘ What’s going on here? What don’t we know?’ It has kind of an arc, but in a way it’s like an inverted arc. We finally learn what causes the bad behavior that’s happening on stage.”
To help get the play produced, Graf “had connected with Joel Polis, our director, first. Joel liked the play right away. Then I sent it out to many of the [small] theaters in the country and while there was interest, nobody offered to do a production.Â It was a tougher business than I thought. Â I did get a nice note from the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center saying they had high regard for my play.”
“Then Gary Grossman called,” Graf says, “and asked to do a reading of the play as part of the Katselas Theatre Company’s Inkubator series. Gary accepted the play for production and I called Joel and said “˜we have a theater’.”
Katselas artistic director Grossman elaborates on Inkubator, a play development program. “I started it with Tony Abatemarco, Michael Kearns, and Susan Krebs,” Grossman says, “because it’s hard for writers such as Kathy (Graf) to get their work on stage.Â The basic idea is to find pieces that have not been read and to get them up.”
Regarding Hermetically Sealed, Grossman says he “was very excited about it when I read it, but when I saw it in front of an audience I got even more excited. Normally a play needs a re-write and then we read it again in front of a different audience, but in this case we felt Kathryn’s play was ready for a full production.”
“We’ve had a lot of successes with Inkubator,” Grossman continues.Â “Play readings take place the last weekend of every month and three full plays are read per weekend.Â Four plays from this series are being mounted this year and more are scheduled for 2012 and 2013. So out of the 18 pieces that were read, a third of them are being mounted.”
“Before rehearsals started,” Graf says, “Joel (Polis) and I talked about the beats of the play, and his vision was clear. Then it was up to him to make sure all five actors were together for certain elements.”
“This is really my first experience as a writer being involved in the development of a play.” Graf continues. “Once production started, I went back to Connecticut to take care of family obligations. Â It was hard releasing the play to Joel and the actors. I felt like I was giving birth 3,000 miles away. Â It was a real lesson for me because I, of course, hoped that the shared vision would be realized. And now that I’m back for tech week I can see it was realized. It’s going very, very well.”
“But it’s a hard play for the production crew.Â I didn’t realize I had written so many props into the play, including a lot of food on stage.”
Graf hopes the play will have a life after Los Angeles, whether at a resident theater or even off-off-Broadway. She also hopes the play will be published. “It will be great for any acting class in the world as it has lot of good material for scenes or monologues,” she says.
Although a graduate of the University of California at Irvine, Graf never took any formal playwriting classes. “Until my husband died I hadn’t written a word,” Graf says.Â “Writing helped me out of the grief.Â I did study with Jack Grapes for a while which was very valuable. I realized I didn’t want to learn structure. It’s not for me. I hope to become well-known enough someday so I can yell about ignoring rules. I think rules are the death of art.”
Besides writing plays, she also wrote a children’s book Always My Dad, which was recently published and received a Mom’s Choice Award. But now she’s hard at work on her next play.
“It’s about middle age and it’ll never get produced,” she teases, “because nobody wants to know about that.”
Hermetically Sealed, presented by Katseles Theatre Company at Skylight Theatre, 1816 N.Vermont, Los Feliz. Opens October 22. Plays Fri-Sat 8 pm; Sun 7 pm. Through Nov. 20. Tickets: $30; discount for students and seniors. 702-582-8587. www.ktctickets.com.
***All Hermetically Sealed production photos by Ed Krieger