Stage & Dance

Chance meeting has been a boon for playwright and actress

Playwright Brian Hampton and actress Allie Darden are working together for the second time in Studio Players' production of The Jungle Fun Room at the Carriage House Theatre.
Playwright Brian Hampton and actress Allie Darden are working together for the second time in Studio Players' production of The Jungle Fun Room at the Carriage House Theatre. Lexington Herald-Leader

Allie Darden was bored in the winter of 2005, so the Lexington actress went looking for a show and found herself on an adventure with a playwright.

"She's become my muse," New York-based playwright Brian Hampton says of Darden.

She auditioned for and landed the role of Brooke in the world premiere production of Hampton's play Checking In. It was presented at Actors Guild of Lexington, thanks in large part to Hampton's friendship with then-AGL director Richard St. Peter. The play was about high school friends reuniting in an Atlantic City hotel room, and it featured Hampton in the ensemble cast.

Darden later was invited for a reading of Checking In in New York in 2009 and a full production of the show later that year. But her next adventure with Hampton was brewing during that Actors Guild production.

"Allie and I really started bonding on Checking In because we would get to the theater really, really early," Hampton says. "We would just talk and talk, and I was just writing The Jungle Fun Room. And that's when we started talking about it, and she started talking about Studio Players, and I thought, 'They really sound perfect for this show.' It celebrates theater and all the different types of actors you find. And she told me if you do it at Studio, you're going to get a really great set."

Five years later, Darden and Hampton are sitting in the lobby of Studio Players' Carriage House Theatre, just a few days before The Jungle Fun Room makes its regional theater debut at Studio. Darden, of course, has a role.

The play centers on a group of actors who present children's birthday parties at a New York City zoo. The actors are at various stages in their quests for stage and film careers, and an encounter with a successful actress makes them reassess their plans.

Hampton says Darden inspired the character Eve, an actor content with her stage life, but she was cast as Shelly, the diva of the zoo crew.

"Eve is the character who represents balance," Hampton says. "To her, 'Success is a state of mind.'"

Darden says, "The character I play, her goal is that success is Broadway. So she may lose a little joy at times because that's all she sees: Broadway. Everything's an audition, everything's another step ahead.'"

Darden herself has certainly been successful in Hampton's work: She is the only performer to appear in full productions of both of his completed plays.

"He has a great capacity to write about friendship," Darden says. "We can talk about reunions, we can talk about theater, he writes about friendship. That's what he gets his inspiration from, that's what I've seen in his work."

And through that work, he's made another really good friend.

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