A Fine Romance – Scriptwriter debuts his play at Center Stage

Center Stage Theater kicks off its 20th anniversary week with a reminder of how it has given breaks to up-and-coming playwrights.

“Hopeless Romantic” is Steve Kunes’ first foray into theater after a long career writing scripts for Hollywood. For Saturday night’s play reading, the writer has pared down his usual ensemble cast, instead opting for multi-scene works for two actors.

Kunes has spent his writing career as a script doctor, working behind the scenes to add content to Hollywood films and television shows. Sometimes he is credited, often he is not, due to Writers Guild of America rules.

“Being a script doctor is like making love to a beautiful woman and hearing her call out somebody else’s name,” he says.

This two-character play follows Beth Summerland, an unmarried woman in her 50s who is childless, intelligent and lonely. But she does have a favorite author, Michael Hanley, and it seems that every time he comes out with a book, his writing speaks directly to her troubles. It helps her. And now she’s in the airport reading his latest — which shares the same title as this play — when the author just so happens to sit next to her. What will she say?

Of course, Beth’s vision of Hanley’s perfect life is far from true. In fact, he considers himself a failure, with an ex-wife and numerous troubles. Of course, they are made for each other, but the two don’t know it yet.

Kunes wrote the play in 2007, having been inspired to create something for Center Stage after a particularly good evening of theater there.

“I thought it would be good for the play to be read in front of an audience,” he says. “And the Center Stage is the most intimate theater in town. It was suggested I bring in actors from Los Angeles, but I thought a local theater should have local actors.”

After some inquiry around town, Kunes soon saw his very short list shortened to just one name: Ed Giron. He liked the play and then recommended Meredith McMinn.

Kunes got his start when Norman Lear hired him as a writer for “a.k.a Pablo,” his universally derided non-comeback after the heights of “All in the Family.” However, it gave star Paul Rodriguez his start, and Kunes, too. The writer went on to work for “Kate & Allie,” “Small Wonder,” “Cheers,” “Family Ties” and numerous pilots.

“Sometimes they bring in another writer and you don’t know until you hear it from somebody else. So the reason I wanted to do this is to see something play out as I wrote it. In theater, the writer is king, and that’s a new experience for me.”

This will be the first time Kunes has heard his words being read back to him, and after attending rehearsals, he says it is odd and scary.

“I’m constantly revising it and changing the text,” Kunes says. “But the actors have also been very astute about what must be done.”

And in Kunes’ case, life is also imitating art. A hopeless romantic, he only recently connected with a high school crush after 36 years apart. After a few e-mails and face-to-face meetings, the two are now engaged. Maybe Kunes has play No. 2 ready to go.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $10
Information: (805) 963-0408, www.centerstagetheater.org

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