Real life events inspired the new “dark comedy about bright stars” from local gay playwright Michael McKeever, opening March 20 at the Carnival Theatre at Miami’s Arsht Center.
Set at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, one of Tinseltown’s glitziest awards season events, “Clark Gable Slept Here,” the latest production from Zoetic Stage, revels in the shallow realities of the film industry after a dead male prostitute is discovered in the hotel room of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
“It’s a very, very dark comedy,” promises McKeever, winner of multiple regional Carbonell Awards for his plays, who based the story on the real life experiences of a friend who lives in Los Angeles. McKeever’s friend was propositioned in a gym sauna by one of “those actors” who frequently find their names published in the tabloids.
“He told me how star struck he was at first — no names — but, within a few minutes, my friend was like, ‘Get this gross old man off me’!” McKeever explained. “I was simply in stitches as I heard the story and I knew I had the makings of a fun play, the story of movie stars who lead complete double lives.”
Initially, McKeever considered telling the story as a drama, but “it was just too ripe with funny stuff.” He settled on the Golden Globes Awards as the setting, rather than the Oscars, because the event is held at the Chateau Marmont and is much less of a media spectacle and more of a party. The play got its title from the “great Hollywood legend” about Clark Gable being gay for pay in the 1920s.
The play was actually programmed for Zoetic’s 2013-14 season before McKeever struck the first keys on his computer.
Stuart Meltzer, Zoetic’s artistic director and McKeever’s longtime partner, needed a comedy to round out the season for the company, which Meltzer, McKeever and playwright Christopher Demos-Brown co-founded three years ago.
“Stuart was going crazy to find a comedy….Luckily, I’m a quick writer,” chuckled the talented McKeever.
He has completed full length plays in as little as one month in the past, but managed to beat his self-imposed, two-month deadline for “Clark Gable” by a day, wrapping up the manuscript on New Year’s Eve.
The play then went into workshops with cast under Meltzer’s direction. McKeever and his Zoetic colleagues had a deep pool of local talent to choose from when casting the show.
“We’ve always strived to use some of the best actors in South Florida, but they’re also our friends and we know they’re going to deliver,” he said.
Chemistry between the actors is particularly important in comedy, McKeever notes.
“Comedy is so much harder than drama. Timing is everything, coordinating with the other actors, but also with the audience, as well. We all have to gauge each of the comic moments, knowing where to hold (for laughter),” he said. “And, of course, you don’t know what to really expect until you get it on stage with an audience, especially with a world premiere that’s never been performed.”
Two-time Carbonell winning actress Lela Elam plays Morgan Wright, the “fixer,” who must dispose of the body. McKeever originally envisioned Morgan as a male role, but instead decided to make her a stunning, Angelina Jolie-type.
Clay Cartland, who McKeever calls one of the best physical actors in the area, “can bend his body in ways that aren’t human,” and offers comic relief as Gage Holland, the actor in question. McKeever himself dons a tuxedo to portray the film actor’s manager, “Hilly” Hilliard, a welcome change after portraying a shaved concentration camp inmate last fall in a Carbonell-nominated performance with Island City Stage.
McKeever can’t forget Robert Johnson, the dead body previously known as the hustler, Travis.
“Not only is (Robert) a joy to work with, he looks great naked. He’s portraying a $1,000 dollar a night prostitute, so that’s a prerequisite,” McKeever said.
So far, they’re getting it right: “The stage manager has had her hands full keeping us on task because we’re constantly cracking each other up.”
If You Go
“Clark Gable Slept Here” by Michael McKeever
Zoetic Stage at the Arsht Center, Miami
Thursday – Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.
Tickets $45 at ArshtCenter.org