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photographs by Barry Wisdom
Playwright Kevin King's career has had more moving parts than the Orwellian tool factory in which his award-winning dramedy "The Idea Man" is set.
After earning a philosophy degree from the University of Michigan, King aborted plans for a master's degree ("I decided academia wasn't for me.") in favor of ricochet romances with journalism (he founded a pair of Detroit-based entertainment magazines, wrote film reviews, and freelanced features for a variety of publications, including The Sacramento Bee), documentary filmmaking ("Baker's and The Bird"), software engineering and tool-and-die mold-making.
And all of this before penning "The Idea Man," which plays Feb. 18-March 17, 2012, at Sacramento's California Stage. Originally produced at Hollywood's Elephant Theatre Company, "The Idea Man' was King's first full-length play (which just happened to earn him a 2008-09 Ovation Award for playwriting).
"I was the most surprised person in the room," said King, who admits not even his entourage of family and friends had much confidence he'd beat out his experienced and well-known competition and bring home the trophy, "If you watch me during the awards clip on YouTube, you'll see what I mean."
Though he pooh-poohs the notion that he's a genius ("I've worked with people who are way smarter."), King would be hard-pressed to successfully argue against being tagged anything less than a "Renaissance man."
Blessed with a "can-do" attitude, and a frighteningly disciplined work ethic he credits to his parents and wife, Sally, the Los Angeles-based King currently has more irons in the fire than a cavalry blacksmith. In addition to pursuing an MFA in dramatic writing at the University of Southern California (on scholarship no less!), King is preparing to open a new show in March at Chicago's American Theatre Company as part of its short play festival, and is in the process of developing a television pilot. He recently sold a screenplay to Northern Lights Films – a "psychological horror movie" – that's scheduled to start shooting this summer.
King, who will be participating in an audience talk-back session following California Stage's Feb. 18 opening of "The Idea Man," said his career history has garnered him substantial and varied "capital" from which to draw from.
Like most of his scripts, "The Idea Man" has roots planted in King's real life. On the surface, "The Idea Man" is about how monolithic corporations are prone to take advantage of their workers in order to keep costs down, bolster stock prices and keep shareholders happy.
But it's also about choices and how one balances financial needs (and wants) against morality.
Al Carson (Loren Taylor) is a tool room worker and union rep whose moral choices have lately lost out to his more base "needs." A jokester and womanizer, Al is also bit of a machine shop savant who has devised refinements for an essential piece of factory equipment – refinements that will not only make his job easier, but save his company millions.
But since engineering isn't part of Al's job description, the company's plant manager, Jim Simmons (Charlie Holliday), needs him to sign a release before they can put his designs to work. After an insulting initial "thank you" of a $100 check and engraved plaque fails to impress the crude but canny Al, Simmons recruits mid-level engineer Frank Thompson (Eric Baldwin) to alternately bully and cajole Al to hand over his rights.
Frank is close enough to the top of the pyramid to have seen the view from on high, but low enough to still be somewhat grounded. The decisions both Al and Frank have to make are at the heart of "The Idea Man."
King said he knew men like Al during his 15 years in software engineering and manufacturing, and that what stuck with him was how locked into their roles they seemed to be – so far removed from the "open to anything" outlook he has enjoyed for most of his life.
But King stressed that while there's much food for thought to chew on (its Hollywood staging was reviewed by the World Socialist Web Site), his play has plenty of humor.
"I want it to be funny," said King. "I don't want to hector the audience or lecture anybody – I want to deliver a great experience and share it with people."
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: The California Stage production of Kevin King's "The Idea Man"
WHEN: Feb. 18 through March 17, 2012; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
WHERE: California Stage, 2509 R St., Sacramento, Calif.
WHO: Directed by Penny Kline, and featuring Loren Taylor (Al Carson), Michele Koehler (Francine Carson), Eric Baldwin (Frank Thompson), Christina Clem (Maureen Thompson), Charlie Holliday (Jim Simmons), West Ramsey (Gino), Jawara Duncan (Doyle) ad Nicholas Koehler (Bobby)
HOW MUCH: $12-$20
RESERVATIONS/INFO: (916) 451-5822; www.calstage.org