Unraveling the Past

A retired teacher mounts a production of his play about a man losing his grip on reality

Gavin Kayner's output as a writer includes six full-length plays, two one-acts, several shorter pieces and three screenplays. And that's just since he retired from teaching five years ago.

As if he weren't busy enough, Kayner has formed a company--Piquant Plays Productions, or P3--expressly to mount his play Thumbs. Kayner describes it as "the story of a young man named Isaac who, stripped of an emotional and a spiritual context, loses a grip on his sanity. With the help of a psychiatrist facing his own dilemma, Isaac struggles to gain some grace by unraveling the knot of his past."

Says Kayner, "It's an idea play, about the eternal and infernal questions we're all burdened with. I don't know the answers, and it's much more interesting to the audience if I don't. I'm trying to be entertaining and provocative, and give people something to talk about afterward--unlike The Odd Couple, which, once you've seen it, you've seen it."

Kayner isn't exactly new to writing; he's been doing it one way or another since he was a preteen. But he earned his living as a teacher, mainly fifth and sixth grades in the Amphitheater School District, and, he says, "Teaching is all-encompassing. I couldn't teach and write at the same time."

Ah, but he did have summers off, and managed to produce poetry and prose that appeared in local and national periodicals. He also used drama and puppetry in the classroom, and, with a Fulbright grant, once wrote and directed a production that involved the entire town of Newquay, England. As an amateur actor, he appeared with the long-gone Playbox Community Theater at Trail Dust Town.

Kayner isn't acting in Thumbs, but he is directing it. Well, sort of. "I'm more of an editor," he says. "I'm allowing the actors, who are all seasoned, to bring what they want to it, if it works."

Kayner has assembled a cast that may be unfamiliar to Tucson theatergoers; many of the actors are new to town. They include Kale Arndt, Eric Anson, Maxine Gillespie, Richard Chaney, Tom Bushee, Dallas Thomas and Reid Gilbert.

If you expect trouble when a retired teacher starts talking about an "idea play," relax. "In something like this, you mustn't become too pedantic; that's the greatest danger," he says. "Plays are characters, foremost. Who are they? Where do they come from? What's their motivation? You have to create characters with depth, so the ideas come out naturally through their conflicts.

"Then you hope the people who get a chance to see the play take something away with them, feeling that they've seen a piece of theater that's entertaining and intellectually stimulating at the same time."

You'd expect a playwright to be thrilled to see his work on stage, especially if he can control the production, but Kayner seems a bit ambivalent about mounting Thumbs. "Writing the play is the best part," he declares. "The ending is almost anticlimactic. Going from a blank page to putting together a complex story that hopefully moves people--that's what I enjoy.

"If things work out with Thumbs, I may produce another one of my plays. The only trouble is, that takes away from the writing."

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