Before Charles Pogue became a successful Hollywood screenwriter and the late Larry Drake became Benny Stulwicz on “L.A. Law,” they were young Hollywood hopefuls who shared an agent, a residence, and a penchant for old movies.
They also shared a love for witty dialogue and bouncing ideas off of one another. That’s how “Whodunnit, Darling?,” a fast-talking mystery-comedy set on a 1930s dude ranch, co-written by Pogue and Drake, came into existence.
“I actually wrote a draft of the play and felt at the time it was inadequate and asked Larry to come on and join me in it, which he did, and we rewrote it,” says Pogue, who now resides in Georgetown. “He was great in terms the humor and character and things like that. It just became a better play and then we started sending it out.”
I stuck another dozen or so jokes in it and just tidied up some things that had always bothered me about it.
Charles Edward Pogue, playwright
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Pogue’s theater pal Roger Lee Leasor got a hold of the script and entered it in Studio Players’ first annual Playwriting Competition. The script won and received a world premiere production in Lexington in 1983 before going on to be produced in several theaters throughout the country.
But just as the play was taking off, so were Pogue and Drake’s careers.
“Our careers started taking off and we really didn’t have the time to tend to it properly anymore,” says Pogue, who also wrote a TV pilot for Showtime based on the play, which ultimately didn’t get produced, despite interest from studio executives.
Fast forward more than thirty years and a lightly revised “Whodunnit, Darling?” has found its way home again, thanks in part to Facebook and the benevolent meddling of friends.
“I stuck another dozen or so jokes in it and just tidied up some things that had always bothered me about it,” says Pogue, before explaining that his Facebook musings about the script caught the eye of Robby Henson, artistic director of Pioneer Playhouse. Henson asked Pogue to send him a copy of the script, an exchange which led to a summer production of the show last season.
Then, after informally discussing the play at the Southeastern Theatre Conference, Pogue was surprised to learn that the play had once again been submitted for consideration at Studio Players.
“Eric Seale, unbeknownst to me, submitted it,” says Pogue.
Seale, former director of Actors Guild of Lexington, also stars in the show under the direction of Pogue’s wife, Julieanne, herself a veteran actor, director, and alumna of the University of Kentucky’s theater program.
Julieanne says directing her husband’s play is different in several key ways.
“It’s comfortable. It’s very comfortable,” she says. “It’s dealing with an old friend as opposed to someone you’re going to have to feel out and discover.”
The difference is that knowing Larry and Charles as well I did — we lived together in L.A. — I hear all of the voices. I hear the two of them riffing in the play and I also know about the riffs that could go on forever.
Julieanne Pogue, director
Julianne was around for Pogue and Drake’s early years, and has witnessed their humorous banter in person.
“When I’m reading a play initially, I’m trying to find the voice,” says Julieanne. “Who does it sound like? What’s the attitude? What’s the point of view?”
“The difference is that knowing Larry and Charles as well I did — we lived together in L.A. — I hear all of the voices. I hear the two of them riffing in the play and I also know about the riffs that could go on forever.”
Working at Studio Players is also a homecoming for Julieanne, whose first non-school stage role was in “The Pajama Game” at Studio Players. She has worked as an actor and director at the theater intermittently in the decades since.
“It’s trained more than a few of the best actors that have come out of Lexington,” says Julieanne. “I’ve rarely seen a smoother operation in a theater. I think because I’ve directed there and I’ve acted there for years and years, it still feels like going home.”
If you go
What: Studio Players’ production of the comedy by Charles Edward Pogue and Larry Drake
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 10-12, 18, 19, 25, 26; 2:30 p.m. Nov. 13, 20, 27
Where: Studio Players Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Court
Tickets: $21 adults, $11 students