On August 13 and 14, GUIDING LIGHT alums Michael O’Leary (ex-Rick), Grant Aleksander (ex-Phillip), Tina Sloan (ex-Lillian) and Cynthia Watros (ex-Annie) will perform Breathing Under Dirt, a play written by O’Leary, at the Ella Fitzgerald Performing Arts Center in Maryland. Here, O’Leary, Aleksander, Sloan and co-star Robert Forester, talk about the new production. For more from the actors, check out a future issue of Soap Opera Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: What was the genesis of this project?
Michael O’Leary: I kind of always wanted to address the subject of forgiveness. In my life, I had some circumstances with my father, who passed about 15 years ago, and so I just started to write about it. I started off with a monologue, and it just kind of started to form into a play. We took the first 20 minutes of the play to the 2016 Manhattan Repertory Theatre One Act Play Competition with Beth Chamberlin [ex-Beth, in the role Cynthia Watros is now playing] and Grant and Tina. Grant directed it and it won first place. The Facebook buzz started to go out immediately, and then we started getting some interest in bringing a full-length version of the play to a bigger theater.
Grant Aleksander: When this opportunity came up, Mikey said, “Would you be interested in directing the full-length play?” I was and he kind of buried the lede on me and told me that he also wanted me to do a rather substantial part in it, which I agreed to, and sort of here we are with that.
Tina Sloan: When Mikey called and said, “Read this play,” I read it and I went, “My God, it’s brilliant.” It’s Tennessee Williams. I sent it to this big Shakespearean professor at the English department at the University of Georgia and she just was like, “I’m blown away. I want to teach this play.” It’s genius.
Digest: Robert, what has it been like for you to work with this group?
Forester: Oh, my gosh, it’s a dream come true. I grew up watching GUIDING LIGHT when it was black and white, 15 minutes long and live, and I’ve watched Tina since she was on SOMERSET and SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and then another one and then GUIDING LIGHT. I remember Grant’s first days on GUIDING LIGHT and Mikey’s first days. So I never dreamed that anything like this would happen to me, that I would get to meet these people and to work with them.
Aleksander: Robert has truly been the little engine that could. He’s got to get a new title in the playbill as Production Coordinator cause he’s done the work of 10 people, he really has.
Digest: Michael, how long did it take you to write it?
O’Leary: Not that long. I wrote the first 20 pages in February, and in March we performed it, and then they said, “You need a full-length play,” and so I wrote the rest of it in April. I knew the story I had to tell. And then Grant and I just sat down and he helped me shape it. I think it’s in the right place right now.
Digest: What was it like to work together again?
Sloan: Fabulous, absolutely fabulous.
Aleksander: It is really great; it is like having a little piece of the good old days back, to have us all together doing this. It’s such a fun project; it’s a great play. One of the easy things for me directing is that when you’re working with people like this that have so much talent and that are so professional and know what they’re doing, there’s not that much that I have to do on that end of it.
Michael, what has the process been like for you?
O’Leary: I’ve got to tell you, in my entire career, there’s nothing that’s made me more excited than this, because it is so deeply personal for me. To have Grant and Tina, and in the beginning it was Beth, none of it would have been possible [without them]. It’s really kind of humbling. We’re like family, our GUIDING LIGHT family, and for us, it was seven years almost to the day of the last show that we did this play and here we are again, you know? It’s pretty cool.
Breathing Under Dirt, A New American Play, will be performed at the Ella Fitzgerald Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (a short distance from Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia) on August 13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and August 14 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $40 & $75 (includes exclusive Meet and Greet). For more, call (443) 614-0830 or (757) 894-0833 or visit lowershorepac.org.