Lovejoy brings a personal tale to CTC’s Chau-Talk-One

Bird Elephant China

Bird Elephant China

While gearing up for the recently closed Broadway play Lucky Guy, actor Deirdre Lovejoy sat in the house during technical rehearsals writing a script for her new one-woman show.

Her play, Bird Elephant China, will have its very first reading at 7 p.m. tonight at Bratton Theater as part of Chautauqua Theater Company’s Chau-Talk-One series.

“This is going to be very much a first reading of a first draft,” Lovejoy said. “I will see how it goes. I knew what I needed to write about; this is just the beginning of my exploration, in terms of making sure it’s good storytelling in this form.”

Having written the bulk of her material in the past two months (Lucky Guy closed July 3), Lovejoy is delighted to present her work-in-progress. The play has actually been in a continuous state of artistic limbo for the past two years as Lovejoy attempted to make her new work into a full-length play.

She started out wanting it to be a work of fiction but decided it wouldn’t work as a fictional piece; the events that take place throughout the play are based on Lovejoy’s own life.

Bird Elephant China came about after Lovejoy had a mysterious and sudden adult-onset seizure disorder in 2009. By the end of that same year, she was essentially incapacitated.

“I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, and so this story is really the story of being faced with this strange occurrence in the middle of my career,” Lovejoy said, “which was going pretty well, and life was good. Then suddenly, I’m really not inhabiting my body fully.”

The show speaks to the events and recovery process of her traumatic experience. She also focuses at length on the baffling nature of her illness and dealing with discovering a diagnosis — or at least trying to.

Additionally, her show spotlights survival — the fact that she overcame her illness and that she has not just survived, but has also thrived after her experience.

Her new work is an attempt to piece together the time she lost while she was incapacitated. Working on this piece has occasionally brought back the emotional memories of dealing with her sudden illness, she said.

“I think that anything that’s really worth doing has its moments of being incredibly challenging and difficult,” she said. “Reliving that time … like I have been has been very overwhelming at times, and I had to just put it down and walk away for a while.”

While writing and researching this play, Lovejoy went through her medical records and several testimonials; she had videotaped her mom and friends while they were taking care of her. Though those videos won’t be in this particular production, she will be reading what her family members and friends had said about caring for her.

Her story is what attracted Andrew Borba, CTC associate artistic director, to bring her to the Institution for the Chau-Talk-One series. Borba said that aside from Lovejoy’s capabilities as an actor, the story itself is quite compelling.

For Lovejoy, it was just a matter of time until she made an appearance at CTC. Having attended school with Rebecca Guy, former CTC artistic director, and then graduate school with Vivienne Benesch, the company’s current artistic director, Lovejoy said she has been hearing about the Institution for the better part of 30 years.

“I was skeptical,” she said about presenting her work. “I knew I wouldn’t have a polished, finished, shiny piece, but I was very interested in allowing myself to truly present a work-in-progress.”

Luckily, the Chau-Talk-One series is similar to the presentations of CTC’s New Play Workshop, in that its goal is to help bolster and improve new works.

“I’m still allowing myself to really be in this process of, “What is this?’ ” she said. “My work is about trying to really find out what it is. I have an awful amount of story to tell in a very short amount of time; it’s really been just an editing process.”