Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer
While Chautauqua Theater Company has completed its season, guests looking to get one last dose of theater will find it at Fletcher Music Hall at 2 p.m. Saturday with Chautauquan David Zinman’s one-act play “What’s in a Name?”
Zinman, who runs the Classic Film Series at the Chautauqua Cinema, typically does a staged reading of his plays at the end of each season. His inspiration for this season’s play came from a real-life story he heard while in a library one day.
While chatting with one of the librarians, Zinman said, he heard the story of a woman with Alzheimer’s who began calling her husband by another man’s name whenever he came to visit her. The protagonist in Zinman’s play, Ned Jamison, is in a similar situation and finds himself struggling with this potential secret of their marriage.
“He’s trying to figure out whether this was a figment of her imagination, or is there another person in her life by this name that he doesn’t know about,” Zinman said. “It’s an experience about a man who is learning something about his marriage that he didn’t know and realizes his shortcomings as a husband. He goes through a journey in life based on this experience of hearing his wife use another name. It’s a self-discovery about himself that he finds out a little too late in life, but he does find out and can make a change.”
Zinman, who has been writing plays for about 10 years, has spent summers at Chautauqua since 1944. His career in playwriting only began after retiring from a lifelong job as a reporter.
“I finally retired, and I found that the best part of my writing were features stories where I had a lot of dialogue, so I thought, Gee, it would be fun to write something that’s fully in dialogue,” Zinman said.
He took a course in playwriting and began writing one to two plays per year.
Zinman’s past one-act plays include “Strom in Limbo,” “Who Killed the Kingfish,” “Pigtails in the Outfield,” “The Reporter,” “The Girl on the Silver Screen,” “Movies 101,” “The Piano,” “The Two Mr. Bernsteins,” “The Real Deal,” “The Opera Maven,” “Madame Davida” and “Mr. Smart Ass,” which was a finalist in the Tennessee Williams One-Act Play Competition in New Orleans.
Two of these plays — “Strom in Limbo” and “Who Killed the Kingfish” — were based on Zinman’s experiences as a reporter in New Orleans.
Zinman said he brings these plays to Chautauqua each season to get valuable feedback and insight into what he has written.
“They’ve all had their first stage reading at Chautauqua, and the reason for that is when you write a play, it’s all on paper, and you don’t know how it plays until people read it, so that gives you the opportunity of hearing your words that are read aloud,” Zinman said. “Then you go to the audience to get the live audience reaction to it.”
The cast of this season’s play includes a group of Chautauquans Zinman has named “The Chautauqua Players.” This group includes Hugh Butler (Ned Jamison), Mary Lee Talbot (Miss Collins), Margaret Johnson (Kathy Jamison) and Carl Badger (Harry Washington). It also includes Friends of Chautauqua Theater Company member at-large Bob McClure, who will be directing the play, and Jean Badger, who will be stage directing.
McClure said this is his fourth season directing one of Zinman’s plays, and he first encountered Zinman during his play “Who Killed the Kingfish.” While he has no formal theater training, it was McClure’s love for the theater and play readings during the winter that earned him the role of director of Zinman’s plays.
Preparation for Saturday’s performance included only three days of rehearsal in Alumni Hall, and while the play is not a full production, Zinman said it will run similarly to CTC’s New Play Workshops. It will have minimal set and scenery, and actors will have their scripts in hand. After the play ends, there will be a talkback with the audience so that Zinman can receive feedback.
McClure said Wednesday’s rehearsal involved a table reading, where he and the cast read and ironed out any inconsistencies or problems with the script. They also spent time discussing how their roles fit into the telling of the story as a whole. Thursday’s rehearsal allowed the actors to act out the play for the first time in preparation for Saturday’s performance.
McClure said overall, he wants people to get two messages from seeing this play.
“It’s a play about a terrible illness, so you walk away with perspective about what that must be like for the other people,” McClure said. “It’s also a play about how people are sometimes not on the same wavelength when they are communicating.”
Zinman said the play will be approximately 40 minutes long and is sponsored by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Alumni Association. It is a free event for guests to attend.