Arts Mixtape

The long journey of Bill Donnelly's "The Tenant"
from Seoul to New York

by Jarrett Lyons

THE TENANT -- Vivian Chiu and Carson Lee in workshop of "The Tenant" by Bill Donnelly at The Producers Club, NYC in 2011. Theater for the New City will present the play November 15 to December 2, 2012. Photo by Agate Elie

Theater for the New City will stage the world premiere of New York-born and bred playwright, Bill Donnelly's "The Tenant." The four actor play introduces the character of Lucky Star after her migration from Korea to New York City. Lucky Star, in arriving at the doorstep of married superintendents Babe and Sam, is the catalyst for the events of the play. Interestingly the development of the play itself mirrors the characters journey, from Seoul, Korea to Manhattan.

Superintendents Sam and Babe have relationship that is both loving and fulfilling both physically and emotionally. Eventually, the challenges that Lucky Star brings to the couple raises questions abut love, sex, compassion and trust. Lucky Star arrives after years of being sexually exploited and begins to challenge Sam and Babes relationship just as Babe receives some bad news regarding her health. Through these characters, Donnelly examines the way love and sex motivate and complicate our lives. Sam and Babe are sexually and emotionally comfortable, while Lucky Star, views sex as negatively and rejects it. As the play progresses Babe's health declines while the dynamic between Lucky and Sam as he becomes increasingly attracted to his new tenant.

Donnelly's journey with "The Tenant" began during the playwright's earlier full-time career as a lawyer. After earning two Law Degrees from Boston College and New York University, Donnelly began working for the Warner-Lambert Company as an international attorney. During his time with the firm, Donnelly took a five week business trip to Seoul, Korea, where he and a Seoul-based associate would discuss the culture and experience of life in the country. The conversations during the trip planted the seed in Donnelly's mind that would eventually be nurtured to grow into Lucky Star and the intrigue surrounding her.

The inspirations for the characters and subsequently the plot of the play, began as Donnelly was pondering motivations for love and sex and the complications that come about from two different but ultimately complimentary human natures. The dynamic between Sam and Babe was born during his trip to Korea. In the midst of learning about the culture of the country and the powerful motivations of human nature, he jotted on a post-it "Married couple is not having sex." This common challenge in relationships is brought into "The Tenant" as interplay between characters tangle throughout the play. Being that the action in the play is character based, Donnelly believes that many of the reactions that these characters have in situations don't necessarily make sense without knowing the characters. Only in seeing the play can you truly get to know the characters and motivations.

Bill Donnelly. Photo courtesy of Turtle Mountain Production Company.

After the ideas from his time in Korea germinated in Donnelly for a time, it inspired him to more fully begin pursuing a passion he would entertain in his spare time, writing. The writer/lawyer took a week off to sow the seeds of "The Tenant." He locked himself in his apartment and "just wrote."

After submitting the play to many theaters and festivals to no avail, Donnelly began to become discouraged. Fortunately, he received a bit of inspiration from his friend and colleague, Bonnie J. Monte, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, who appreciated the early drafts of the play and inspired him to keep writing it, even directing an early reading of the piece.

After stagings at The Dramatist Guild, The Sage Theater in NYC and the Bickford Theater in NJ, "The Tenant" was accepted by the Dramatist Guild's Playwright's Bootcamp in 2010, a program that encouraged him to hire a publicist. During this time, "The Tenant" was being workshopped at The Producer's Club on West 44th Street. His final choice of publicist, Jonathan Slaff, helped him acquire a technical staff for the workshop who were all resident artists at downtown Manhattan's historical Theater for The New CIty, where the play ends its journey (so far) this fall.

Theater for The New City is known for producing premiere productions like "The Tenant," a play which, like the character of Lucky Star, finds a home in New York City. A place where Lucky Star and "The Tenant" will raise a series of questions about love and sex and the motivations within all of us.

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