"Having made my directing debut at PBD last season, I know very well that it's a great place to work, a gorgeous theatre full of first-class people," said Teachout, who directed Satchmo at the Waldorf here. "I also know that Bill is a superb director and a perfect colleague - the kind of guy who works with you to make a show as good as it can possibly be. For all these reasons, I'm hugely excited to be premiering my second play at PBD. It couldn't be in better hands."
Billy and Me
will star Nicholas Richberg as Williams and Tom Wahl as Inge. Rounding out the cast is Kristian Bikic, who doubles as a waiter in the first act and a doctor in the second act. All three actors have participated in workshops of the play and are very much involved in the creative process.
Hayes came up with the notion of a piece about the two playwrights while directing Inge's Picnic in 2015. When Teachout was in town for production meetings on Satchmo, the two men went to lunch and Hayes asked whether the idea had potential. Teachout was intrigued. Flying back to New York the next day, he wrote the scenario "in a frenzy" on the plane.
"I phoned Bill from the plane as soon as I landed and said, 'I think I know what the play is!'" Teachout recalled. "Ever since I first saw Freud's Last Session at PBD, I'd wanted to try writing a history play of my own that takes place in a kind of blank historical space, an undocumented moment during which you know almost nothing for sure about what actually happened to the real-life characters. We know that Inge and Williams were friends, but neither one of them ever spoke on record about their relationship in any detail. That gave me the elbow room I needed to imagine for myself what might possibly have taken place between them."
Billy and Me
is a memory play narrated by Williams. Act I is set at a bar in Chicago on December 31, 1944, immediately after a pre-Broadway tryout of Williams' The Glass Menagerie - the play that inspired Inge to become a playwright. Act II takes place almost 15 years later in Inge's Manhattan apartment, a few hours after the Broadway premiere of his first flop, A Loss of Roses.
"It's a play about love, jealousy, and - not to put it too pompously - destiny," said Teachout. "An artist is a person who can't do anything else with his life. Art is his fate: it's that or nothing. But he can't become an artist until he accepts that fate and acknowledges his true nature. That's a big part of what this play is about: the struggle of two great American playwrights to come to terms with who they really were."
Teachout, drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, has had an uncommonly diverse career. He was a professional jazz bassist for eight years, and has also been a dance and music critic, an editorial writer, and a member of the National Council on the Arts. He has written the libretti for three operas by Paul Moravec and is the author of numerous books, including The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. Satchmo at the Waldorf was written after the Armstrong biography.