Broadhurst’s broad horizons

Richard Broadhurst is Kansas-bound.

Richard Broadhurst is Kansas-bound.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Good things are happening for local writer Richard Broadhurst. His plays already have been staged by the Sacramento Theatre Company, the Delta King Theatre, Celebration Arts and the Guild Theatre. Recently, his play Billie got a staged reading at The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, which is the first step in a process that could lead to a full production by that company. He also was commissioned by the Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, Minn., to write a play called Ritual, which will be part of the theater company’s new-play series in spring 2004.

Before that happens, Broadhurst is headed for Independence, Kan., the home of playwright William Inge (1913-1973). Broadhurst will serve two months as a playwright-in-residence with the William Inge Theatre Festival while living in Inge’s childhood home.

William Inge was very much the product of his upbringing in Independence, where he came of age during the Great Depression. “People who grow up in small towns know each other so much more closely than people do in cities,” Inge once told an interviewer. “Big people come out of small towns.”

Inge worked as a highway laborer, teacher and drama critic before he met Tennessee Williams and decided to try writing for the stage. He made his mark as a playwright during the 1950s, starting with his one-act Come Back, Little Sheba. He won a Pulitzer for his 1953 play Picnic, and followed it with Bus Stop in 1955. (All three became movies, though Inge’s original stage versions are regarded as superior.)

Inge turned his attention to film, and his first screenplay—1960’s Splendor in the Grass—won him an Oscar. He moved to Hollywood, but his later plays didn’t click with audiences. Inge published two autobiographical novels before his death in 1973.

Broadhurst is looking forward to soaking up some of the small-town Kansas atmosphere so closely associated with Inge’s writing. “I’m told the house was the setting for his play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. If I’m lucky, I’ll pick up some of the vibes,” he said.

Broadhurst will do a few public appearances through the festival’s Playwrights-in-the-Schools program and will speak at the local community college. A public reading of one of his plays is also part of the package. However, Broadhurst’s duties as playwright-in-residence are deliberately vague. “One of the things a lot of playwrights lack is time for concentrated writing,” said Peter Ellenstein, the Inge festival’s artistic director. “We let them work on whatever they want to, whether it’s developing a new play or rewriting an existing script.”