If you're a playwright, you're lucky to get a script produced a single time. Get two productions, you're really lucky. Get more, and you're truly blessed, and if you get them all in a year, you're living a dream. Cyndi Williams, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in the film Room, and who's been at the center of Austin theatre for more than 20 years, is living such a dream with her play Where Are They Now?, which is being staged for the third time in 15 months, currently by Shrewd Productions.
Williams based her play on the Parker-Hulme murder the same source material used by Peter Jackson for his film Heavenly Creatures in which two English schoolgirls, one an outcast and the other an attractive child of wealth, shared an active fantasy life that ended in the bludgeoning death of one of their mothers. The teenagers were convicted, sent to prison, and released five years later. One changed her name to Hilary and became a librarian. The other became the mystery novelist Anne Perry.
Given the subject matter, the play both is and isn't what you might expect. Subtitled "A Fantasy Based on a True Crime," it reads like a dream, with actors changing freely from one persona to the next and events occurring in nonlinear order. The script was first staged in the 2005 FronteraFest Long Fringe, but Williams got a chance to remount it last April in Refraction Arts' Fuse Box festival. "I didn't want to change the way the play worked," says Williams, "but I had this great experience with FronteraFest when I had to leave two days before the show opened to go to the Sundance Film Festival, so I only got to see the final performance. As I watched, I began to feel I was seeing everything that was inside Hilary's head, all these things she was projecting, and I realized that, rather than being both of their stories, this was really Hilary's story. So for the Fuse Box production I focused on Hilary's point of view. I changed the order of some things and, because it was a lot longer than I wanted it to be, I cut a lot out."
This time, Williams, who's also directing, didn't intend to rewrite the script. "But I had an inspiration of how to really drive home the fact that it was Hilary's story," she says. "The play begins very differently now, with Hilary telling the story about what happened to them as if it is a children's story. That used to fall several scenes into the play.
"I've recently become interested in new ways of telling stories, and that interest has heavily influenced this play. For instance, if something's based on a true story, on source material, does an audience need to know the material to enjoy the story? It's been an energizing exploration. Usually, if I talk with someone who's seen it, they're really surprised that so much of it's true."
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