Local playwright Waylon Wood stages sentimental “Letters and Notes”

TALK OF THE TOWN: “This play takes place in my dad’s hometown in Florida, and I remember these women would gossip in front of the shoe store window," says local playwright Waylon Wood of the inspiration for his new production, Letters and Notes Found on the Windshield at the Piggly Wiggly Parking Lot. "This [was] in the ’70s, [when] people still had to communicate very simply.” Photo by Jenny Bunn

“It’s a strange process; it’s like osmosis,” says producer, writer and director Waylon Wood of his latest play, Letters and Notes Found on the Windshield at the Piggly Wiggly Parking Lot. It opens at Asheville Community Theatre’s black box performance space 35below on Friday, May 8.

“I started this play in college. It was a play-writing exercise about ‘a declaration of love,’” Wood says, but the inspiration behind the piece goes back much further than that. “This play takes place in my dad’s hometown in Florida, and I remember these women would gossip in front of the shoe store window. I was 6 or 7,” Wood says. “One of the gossips was that there was a policeman and he was having an affair. In ’76, in a small Southern town, that was scandalous. What would happen is that they’d leave notes on each other’s cars — that was the way you communicated. And if you were trying to be sneaky, there was an honor code about not looking. I was wondering how this would be if they weren’t having an affair and they were single, and this is how this started.”

He adds, “For years I’ve written on cocktail napkins, postcards — sent them home, sent them to other people — these two people talking back and forth to each other. That’s how the play distilled itself.”

As for the setting of Letters and Notes, the play takes place in a much simpler time, some four decades ago in a quaint place similar to the Florida panhandle community where Wood grew up. “That’s where it is in my head, this small town in the ’70s where people still had to communicate very simply,” Wood says. “I’m still young enough that I haven’t really worked out of [Florida]. I haven’t really worked out of my childhood and my family’s origins. The panhandle is still very deep South, and really it’s an extension of Alabama or Georgia. My family’s lived there for well over 150 years. I have a love-hate with it. I grew up there, but it’s changed so much in my own lifetime. You could drive through central Florida, open the windows at night, and there were orange blossom smells. That’s so romantic to me.”

He continues, “It is a sentimental play. There’s no sex and violence and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, though a lot of my other plays have that in them. So people are very surprised when I pull out something so sentimental and sweet. And it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s not Bridges of Madison County.”

Letters and Notes is designed as a simple production: two actors, a table, some lighting cues and little else. Each of the three weekends uses different sets of actors. “The two actors have very little rehearsal time,” says Wood. “They come in, I tech them. Lights up, lights down. It’s really a lot of fun to see how they interpret what they’re reading while trying not to impose my vision on them. I’m really trying to get them to come in as personalities. Really, these actors have discovered these letters, and they’re reading these letters from other people. I’m waiting to see what happens as well.”

It’s an approach that lends itself to the tighter confines of 35below. “I love that space,” says Wood. “It’s for storytelling, for small plays. You can’t really tune out of that space. That space is very concentrated, and there’s something about the energy of that many people getting together. But my whole mission as a writer is to take you out of the space, not keep you in the theater. I want the world to grow outside of the play so that in your head, you’re getting a picture of all of the people they’re talking about, the mood, the setting, the atmosphere.”

He adds, “I try not to impose too much of a point-of-view. I’m not a social writer; I don’t write about temporal things. I want [the characters’] internalness to come out; I want the characters to live in your head a while, so two years from now, you might hear something that reflects back on the play. I want people to carry the play out with them.”

WHAT: Letters and Notes Found on the Windshield at the Piggly Wiggly Parking Lot

WHERE: 35below, ashevilletheatre.org

WHEN: Friday, May 8-Sunday, May 24. Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. $15

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