Gregg Coffin’s living room

Not “light-hearted and frivolous?” But, Gregg Coffin’s photo screams “light-hearted and frivolous.”

Not “light-hearted and frivolous?” But, Gregg Coffin’s photo screams “light-hearted and frivolous.”

Gregg Coffin’s new show—with the eye-jarring title Rightnextto Me—opens this week at the B Street Theatre. And while it’s a musical with several funny scenes and a definite love angle, take warning; it’s not a lighthearted, frivolous piece.

SN&R caught up with Coffin in his South Land Park living room last weekend to talk about the making of his new production.

“I wanted to do a piece in which a calamitous event, like death, affects the relationship. In Rightnextto Me, it turns out to be an army wife and her husband serving in Iraq,” Coffin said. “I started working on it about a year ago, as a kind of ‘winter play’ … thinking about the winter of life, death and rejuvenation at this time of year.”

Fittingly, Coffin had Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in mind as he worked on Rightnextto Me. The end result: a romantic, comedic and tragic musical involving three couples dealing with loss, distance and separation—and whose lives ultimately intersect in different ways.

The tragic story of the army wife and her husband is expertly intertwined with the tale of a marriage counselor who’s at odds with his wife, along with a comical airline flight attendant who’s often away. Lending to the musical’s complexity is the story of a woman with a daughter fleeing an abusive husband and a man whose wife has left him.

A complex story? Yes. Yet the show features a cast of only two—an actress who takes the female roles and an actor who plays the men. They’re backed by a three-piece band (piano, electric bass and percussion).

Coffin explained how Rightnextto Me is much different from his previous shows.

Convenience was my autobiographical one—it was my ‘I think I’m a writer! I think I’m a composer!’ statement,” he said.

Comparatively, Five Course Love (dealing with characters in comic dating situations in ethnic eateries)—which ultimately got a three-month run in New York City—was his “‘entertaining’ one.”

“This one is more of a rumination. The comic couple is very funny, and it has hope for the two single parents—there’s a love connection there. But the real center of the piece is the soldier and his wife, and what happens to the love that these two people have put into that relationship.”

Rightnextto Me is directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, who played the young mom in STC’s production of Convenience. “She also directed my Five Course Love in Houston, to a great response [and a highly favorable review from the Houston Chronicle]. She really gets me musically, having created one of my roles. And she gets me as a playwright, having helped to shape two of my pieces,” he said.

In all, Coffin values the audience reaction to a new piece. That is, when he can get it. “The last element [in the show] is you, sitting in the seat, taking it in. We can’t learn our lessons as writers in the theater unless we get that time,” he said.