A&E: Writer’s Block Inspires New Play from Local Playwright

Anthony Wolf and Robert Ayala star in the South Florida premiere of Philip Middleton Williams’ “Can’t Live Without You” in Boca Raton. Credit: Philip Middleton Williams

Miami writer and playwright Philip Middleton Williams is still trying to finish his novel, “Bobby Cramer.” It’s been more than two decades.

“Sometimes an old dream, like an old friend, can show up when you need it the most,” Williams explained. 

That’s exactly what happened with “Bobby Cramer.” In 2001, while visiting the Florida keys with his parents over Christmas vacation, the title character of the novel inspired a new play. 

“As I was driving, it occurred to me, what would happen if Bobby Cramer walked into the room?” he recalled.

By the time, Williams and his parents reached their motel room, he had sketched out the first scene in his head and by the end of the vacation, he would have the story finished. Now, that play is getting a new production by the Playgroup at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton.

The play centers around Donny Hollenbeck (Anthony Wolff), who thinks he has created the perfect life for himself. He has a lucrative career writing romance novels (under a female nom de plume), a nice girlfriend (Leslie Zivin Kandel), a go-getter realtor with ambitions beyond the next closing, and a beautiful home in Florida. But, when Bobby Cramer (Robert Ayala), a character from a novel he abandoned years ago, pays Donny a visit, he starts to realize his dreams took a wrong turn somewhere.

“The story is really about Donny’s struggle with his alter ego. His girlfriend wants him to settle down and start a family and his agent wants him to keep cranking out books,” said Williams, whose last play, “All Together Now,” was produced last season by the Playgroup. “I do that a lot—borrow characters from my other projects.”

While Donny is probably not gay, there are some twists.

“He’s attracted to this good-looking guy, Bobby, the yin to his yang. Bobby could be gay, but he’s questioning. Donny had experiences and it’s certainly a convenience to have a girlfriend,” said. 

After pausing, the writer continued, “I’m still writing the novel. I may never finish it and it may certainly never be published, but that doesn’t matter, the novel is my Bobby Cramer. I may be writing a play or other stories, but I’m always coming back to that novel.”

Even though Williams created his characters before the more recent era of pansexuality or omnisexuality, the play also seems to predict many of the attitudes that are predominant with young people today.

“In many ways, it’s tough for people to admit they’re gay or straight and this fluidity that people are experiencing is because they’re being labeled, wrapped up in a package,” he said. “We have gay and straight actors and they all bring a sensibility to the study. I have not been to any rehearsals and I stay away because the playwright just sitting there gets in the way. I let (director) Jerry Jensen do his magic. My part is done and now it’s Jerry’s turn.”

The Playgroup LLC presents the South Florida premiere of Philip Middleton Williams’ “Can’t Live Without You,” March 30 – April 7 at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton. Tickets are $25 at WillowTheatre.org.