Spotlight on David Wayne Reed - Pete Bakely
Posted: Mon, Apr 01 2013, 11:38 PM
”When asked if I wanted to grow up to be a farmer, I said, “No, I want to be a back up singer, and an artist and a stripper.” - from Jolly Rancher
David Wayne Reed is excited.
His play Mother Trucker is being produced at Seaside Repertory Theater in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. “It’s the first production of something of mine that I didn’t produce. It’s mind blowing,” says David.
Mother Trucker is Reed’s homage to the trucker movies of his youth as well as a callback to his own past. The play, originally written and produced for Late Night Theatre, tells the story of recent widow Ruby Lee Jenkins, her wheelchair bound son Teddy Bear, her rodeo workin’ love interest Deke Crenshaw, and her brother-in-law, country and western star Slim Jenkins. Inspired by Smokey and the Bandit and trucker culture, Ruby and her gang need to use her pink eighteen-wheeler to transport a load of Alabama No-No Juice in order to get Teddy Bear an operation and rescue Deke from the clutches of Sheila Walker and her sheriff daddy, Dick E. Walker. Mother Trucker liberally cherry picks items from 70’s redneck culture, including vast amounts of music from the likes of Willie Nelson and Red Sovine and the comedy of Hee-haw and Burt Reynolds movies.
But the tonal mix of irony and affection comes from David Wayne Reed’s own upbringing, as the youngest son of a farm couple from Louisburg, Kan.
”In Grandma’s shawl or some doilies from the coffee table, I enchanted my parents to ‘rock a little.’ As I spun around them, I dared them to see this white winged dove singing his song .... But instead of the applause I had imagined and rehearsed, my parents just turned on their heels and said, ‘I don’t know where he gets it, but he sure as hell didn’t get it from me.’ Pat Benetar was right. Hell is for children.” - from Jolly Rancher
Louisburg, Kan. is a small farming town just south of the Overland Park border, between Stillwell and Lacygne. “I grew up on a farm about an hour south of KC. I come from many generations of farmers.”
When asked if he was expected to follow the tradition, David replies, “I think my Dad realized pretty early on that that wasn’t going to happen. I think he did hold out hope though. He did stencil ‘Reed and Sons’ on the back of his seed drill, which was a future I had no plans of following at all.”
He was raised and schooled in the farming community.
“It was good. I had friends. We were the weird kids. I ran around with the big girls ... the bruisers .... We’d cruise around town. We’d take laps. I ran around with this motley crew of girls. I held their babies in the back seat while they pulled bitches out of cars and pummeled them. And they were my best friends, they were my sisters and I love them.” He laughs warmly as he remembers. “It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, I mean, I had bullies. I was the class faggot .... I wasn’t helping my cause much, though. I mean, I went as Boy George for Halloween in the 8th grade. I had 45s of Wham! in my locker. I performed in drag for school assemblies. There were some bigoted backwoods personalities, but shit happens. That’s high school wherever you go and with age, I realized I got away pretty unscathed.”
II. Jolly Rancher
“I stay [at my ten year high school reunion] for a good while before my allergies flare, I sneeze and my eyes tear up. On the way out, I see the most popular girl in our class arriving late. She’s driving the same red Mustang her father bought her our senior year. It has been maintained as meticulously as the spiral perm she still sports even now - years later. It’s as if she came dressed as she was then just so we’d all remember. I tell her I’m leaving and give her a hug. She looks at my irritated eyes and says “Don’t cry, David. I know how you feel. I miss high school, too.” - from Jolly Rancher
Jolly Rancher is a one man play, written by David Wayne Reed for performance as part of his one month residency at Escape to Create at the Seaside Repertory company. It was first performed at January of 2012 in Florida, then performed at the Fishtank in April of 2012 and also at La Esquina in December of 2012.
Jolly Rancher is a series of autobiographical short stories originally written (mostly) for KC Magazine, where David was a former monthly columnist. I’ve been quoting liberally from these pieces for this article. If you want to hear David telling his own stories in a way that’s extremely funny, you need go no further than Jolly Rancher.
Oh, and the title? It’s the punch line to an old joke.
“What do you call a gay farmer? A jolly rancher.”
III. Back To Our Narrative
David lasted one year at Emporia State University, then fled for K State for a degree in Journalism. “I wasn’t digging it.” He said, “Finally a friend said, ‘Why not theater?’” In Manhattan, Kan., he was part of a fertile group of actors which included Eric Stonestreet, now of Modern Family. He graduated in 1994.
David moved to Denver, becoming festival staff at Central City Opera, a catch-all job which had him singing one day, running for props the next. He headed west toward Los Angeles, but ran out of money in New Mexico, and came back making his permanent move to Kansas City proper by 1995.
“I auditioned. I got a few shows at Martin City Melodrama. I got the part of Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at TYA. Then, I quit acting because I fell in love. Then I fell out of love and went back to acting. The first audition I went to was for the first production of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at what would become Late Night Theatre.
IV. Late Night Theatre
”I was on the ascent. My career was taking off. I joined a ragtag company called Late Night Theatre. We were an all-male company that specialized in parodies of movies of yore - The Stepford Wives, Valley of the Dolls, The Birds. I played a lot of women. I played a lot of men.” - from Jolly Rancher
“I did Shakespeare and Restoration and heavy drama all through college. I didn’t do a lot of comedy. Fact!” David explains. I then ask him why they cast him at Late Night Theatre. He seems non-plussed at my question. “Because I’m fucking amazing!”
Reed recalls his first audition for Late Night Theatre.
“Ron had a lot of heels sitting on the side of the stage and he asked us to put them on and act like we were being attacked by birds. I guess I did it well?”
David joined the Late Night Theatre troupe with a host of other performers destined to be Kansas City legends: Ron Megee, of course, but also Philip blue owl Hooser, Jon Piggy Cupit, Bob Kohler, Gary Campell, Steve Jones, and DeDe DeVille.
David now had a home base. A high point came when they did The Stepford Wives and David played the original Stepford wife, Carol Van Sant. The show was commissioned to be presented at the Kemper museum and they played to a four hundred set house, turning away latecomers.
“Everybody was talking about us,” David remembers. “I was going to get my headshots taken and driving down Ward Parkway. I’m stopped at 75th Street and a guy in car across from me yells, ‘Hey! You were in The Birds.’ And I thought, this is it, I have arrived.”
The Late Night troupe was then offered The Old Chelsea Theater as a working space. The Old Chelsea was scheduled for destruction, but until that happened, Late Night Theatre would be let use the building and everything within it. For those not acquainted with Kansas City entertainment history, it was located in the River Market District and had been the largest porn movie theater in Kansas City. Late Night had inherited a performance space with dilapidated seating and a room full of reels from pornographic movies.
“We started raffling them off,” says Reed. “A lot of times, the LNT survived on porn money .... Which is hilarious and awesome.”
They did have to clean the space. They took out all the seats, put them in a horse trough with sanitizer and bleach, and scrubbed them all by hand, cleaning off decades of gum and God-knows-what other substances. They put on three shows there, a reprise of The Birds, 1983’s Drill Team Massacre, and Sweet “Underground” Charity. And then the space was closed.
They put on one final benefit before they left, The Eve of Destruction Party, a compilation of bits from five years of shows. David describes their opening number.
“We’re in the dressing room backstage. Ron’s in heels and suddenly he fires up this chainsaw and cuts a hole right through the wall. And the audience is right there and we all file through this hole and go downstage and do our opening number, ‘The Show Must Go On!’ The evening ended with a party outside, with fireworks and sparklers. The building was going to be torn down, so people are tearing off pieces of wallpaper ... and we woke up the next morning ... and it was 9/11. And we had spray-painted the name of the party on the door. The Eve of Destruction September 10, 2011.”
After that, they went to the Hobbs building in the West Bottoms, which had no restroom facilities for the actors. They put buckets of kitty litter backstage where the cast could pee. “We had men dressed as Stepford Wives hoisting it up over these buckets ....”
Then, Late Night Theater made a permanent move to fifteenth and Grand, where the Car Bar currently resides. It was at this point that David started getting more responsibility for the contents of the shows. He adapted and directed Come Back to the Five and Dime, Dolly Parton, Dolly Parton. The first version of Mother Trucker was performed in this theater. He created a show called The Show Formerly Known as Purple Rain, which won the Kansas City Star’s Best Show of the Year Award in 2005.
“I was starting to get my teeth around it. And with Mother Trucker, we weren’t men playing women’s roles, we were men playing men’s roles. We needed to change it up. Mother Trucker was a game changer.”
Late Night Theatre closed its doors in 2007. Long work hours and constant burnout did the company in. David remembers, “It was time. It had been awful and amazing and everything single thing in between. Late Night was my family and it changed the way I came to view myself as a person and an artist.”
In 2007, The Pitch ran an article announcing Late Night’s demise. Quoted in the article, David Wayne Reed had the last word, “it’s actually quite ironic that a bunch of bottoms would go out on top.”
I asked David if he ever had the urge to put it all back together. He was silent for a long while and then he said, “No. That time is passed.”
V. After Late Night
This past year, David wrote and produced Mother Trucker 2: Ride On, a return to the characters of one of his Late Night Theatre shows. This one catches up to Ruby, Teddy Bear, Deke, and Slim as they try to transport a dangerous animal cross country in Ruby’s pink 18 wheeler.
“I was curious about the characters,” says David. “I wanted to know what they’re doing. I knew I wanted Deke to get back into the rodeo. I wanted Teddy Bear to lose his virginity. I wanted Ruby and Deke to get married. I just wanted it for them.”
David received an Inspiration Grant from the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City to fund the set - a large, revolving pink semi-truck. With help for the Charlotte Street Foundation, Reed acquired use of their performance space, La Esquina. He recruited a cast that included Kimberley Queen as Ruby, Ron Megee as Deke, and Gary Campbell as Teddy Bear.
Then he got into the script and realized it wasn’t working. So a month before he opened, he did a complete rewrite on the script. “Thank God for Xanax, PBR, and Arizona Green Tea.”
Mother Trucker II opened to rave reviews and sold out houses.
As mentioned before, David followed up Mother Trucker 2: Ride On with Jolly Rancher. After the workshop production in Florida, Heidi Van, curator at the Fishtank Performance Studio, started asking David to bring it to the Fishtank, where it received great reviews and again sellout crowds.
Speaking of Heidi Van, David has been a writer and performer in the popular Brindsay Kardilton shows, White Nose Christmas, Bump, and the upcoming Forever 27: The End of the Line. Each concerns the misadventures of a young Hollywood starlet and her coterie of family and friends.
“Heidi is a really great collaborator and I’ve pushed her and she’s pushed me and we have a really great synergy.”
David makes a point to thank his biggest influences and supporters.
“Ron Megee and Late Night Theatre gave me a platform that I am so fortunate to have had. Writing for KC Magazine gave me the opportunity to expand my audience and my writing. Charlotte Street Foundation has been so amazingly supportive of me. And, most recently, Heidi Van and the Fishtank Performance Studio. And finally, Escape to Create. “Without these people, I wouldn’t be where I am. Trust.”
Mother Trucker, the first one, is running late March through April in Seaside, Fla.
Pete Bakely is a Kansas City playwright and actor, currently completing his master’s degree in playwriting from UMKC.
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