February 16 - March 17, 1996, The Road Theatre Company presented IDLE WHEELS at the Lankershim Arts Center in North
Hollywood. Directed by veteran actor, Richard Herd, this play was written by James
On rare occasions when he can slip away from the set of SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, Morrison
attends rehearsals of his play, IDLE WHEELS.
"On the surface, its about two families who have been friends for a long time.
They live in a trailer court just outside Anchorage. Theyre all transplants from
other states. And theyve been friends for years and years and years."
Morrison says the play, set in 1973, pays homage to his home state of Alaska. Central to
his characters experiences is "the enormity of the place, the mysticism of the
But more germaine than the Alaskan panorama is the cultural influence of that states
native inhabitants, the Inuits, Morrison said. The plays main character, Buzzy
Greybill, becomes fascinated with these traditions and seeks to appropriate them as his
It is the conflict engendered by the young mans adoption of these traditions vs. his
failure to understand them that fuels the plays dynamic.
Director Richard Herd adds, "The play is about a young man coming of age while living
unhappily with his stepfather. This young man is placed in a situation in a trailer, a
very confined area. This young mans escape is through his fantasy, his dreams, his
hopes, his spirituality which he picks up kind of catch-as-catch can, through certain
native tradition in Alaska, and he gets lost in some of those."
Herd continues, "On his own, he leaves his dysfunctional home and hurls himself and
fantasy and desire and gifts and talent into this spiritual situation. I understand people
who are trying to transport themselves from desperate situations, situations with a great
deal of anger and lust rather than love. People in Alaska are in a whole different era
than we are. There is a whole different philosophy of the last frontier. There are
different values. There are manly things to do. Therefore everyone walks
around with their own masks. It is difficult amongst men to show your true feelings. But
every once in a while the real people break through trying to communicate. It is squashed
because everybody wants to know how you are, but nobody really gives a damn. They
"In his case, hes trying to possess something other than what he already
does," Morrison said. "If you are trying to own something that you already
possess, thats insanity."
IDLE WHEELS made its way to The Road Company Theatre via Morrisons association with
the plays director Richard Herd, who he met when they worked together at the
Classical Theatre Lab in L.A. It was Morrisons first play, written in 1984, but it
has changed four times since then.
IDLE WHEELS received its first production in Salt Lake City in 1986. "I rewrote it
from that, had a couple of readings since then to address problems I felt were exposed by
the first production and did minor changes. After working a few years at Sundance I
decided I would try my hand at it (writing), and I decided to write about people I knew
and a place I knew. And at the time I was discovering a new spiritual foundation that I
had discovered was missing from my life."
But he hid play away for years, realizing that he would never be able to act in it.
"I wrote IDLE WHEELS with myself in mind, but I am too old for the role (of Buzzy). I
have always played a little younger than myself. I started in 1983 -- then it was a
project at the Sundance Institute in 1985. By that time I was already too old. I sat on
the play from 1987 to 92. I would sit and wonder, Why arent people
responding to my work as a writer? It occurred to me that it may be because no one
was being exposed to it. So I started sending it out and now have quite a collection of
Then he decided it was time to look into a local production. When he showed it to his
friend Richard Herd and received ecstatic feedback, he knew it was time. Herd would
direct. "I knew he identified very strongly with the piece on several levels. Nothing
beats that kind of enthusiasm."
But he still doesnt think the play is perfect. "It is my first play, and I know
what its flaws are."
"This is a love poem to the place I grew up. But because I was so confused and
embittered and angry at the time that I grew up there, this is the perspective that I
"I think its because its my first, and it will never ever really be
finished. I just sort of have to stop, and let it be what it is."
"The tendency for writers who are living and come to rehearsal is for the actors to
say, I dont understand this, I disagree and can you change it, rather
than take the time, had the writer passed away, to discover it, to work on it. So I am not
really interested in getting a call from Richard or the actors saying, I want to
argue with you about this. There is no argument. I am open to anything and will
argue it passionately. I love philosophical discussions of all kinds. But the script is
the thing. That is what I brought to this party."
"I have distanced myself. I talked to some of the actors, but I am not part of the
process so much. It is theirs now. I have moved on and written several other plays since
and am working on some now and doing other things. I trust Richard to guide this thing and
realize this thing as if I were working by his side."
Under Herds careful direction a number of the actors give good performances. Laura
Gardner is compelling as the battered housewife, Doris, mother to Buzzy, and Patrick James
Clark is convincing as her neer-do-well husband and abuser, Pinky. Darlene Keagan is
flawless as the girlfriend, Sherry. Betsey Burke, as Dodie, the flirtatious and vacuous
neighbor, is also well cast.
Synopsized from reviews by T. S. Herrigan and Tom Provenzano for Drama-Logue and Deborah
Klugman for L.A. Life Weekend.
"Within the first 20 minutes of 'Idle Wheels,' it's
evident how the story will end. The time in between is well-spent, however, in
the play's West Coast premiere, grippingly performed by The Road Theatre Company
… it's the sort of stop-the-madness, social awareness theater that just might
light a fire in your belly … Under Richard Herd's direction, the action surges
and recedes in ever-greater waves of emotion, until the final, overwhelming one.
It's all so realistic that viewers feel trapped in this situation - silent
witnesses to a tragedy they know is coming and want desperately to prevent …Three
Sennett captures Buzzy's depressed, angry temperament,
and Darlene Kegan is first-rate as the emotionally disturbed but slightly more
grounded Sherry. Gardner is also terrific as the battered but unbowed Dorris,
while Clarke is riveting as the drunken, crude and cowardly Pinky …
Written by James Morrison and directed with ambitious,
gritty vision by Richard Herd, 'Idle Wheels' is an intense, all too realistic
portrayal of family dysfunction running rampant … it's actors were so skilled
that I couldn't take my eyes away."-THE TOLUCAN TIMES