Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Being There for the Birth of a New Play

Posted by Bruce Miller
I first met my buddy David Robbins about a quarter century ago. A theatre major from William & Mary, David had followed his undergrad work with four years at the W & M Law School, followed by a year's work as an environmental attorney in SC.

Sometime around 1982, David gave up his law practice and returned to Richmond to be a freelance writer. If memory serves, he worked mainly for the ad agencies at first. That's when we met. Whatever he was writing, he seemed to be successful at it from the beginning. He's always been one of those smart guys who works hard--compliments I don't award easily. He's always seemed destined for great things.

He spent some time acting. He played a major role in Theatre IV's production of Isn't It Romantic? by Wendy Wasserstein, and he was Dracula at Dogwood Dell. Last night Joe Inscoe said he remembered David as a "sailor on roller skates," and he seemed to be referring to something theatrical rather than a wanton evening on Canal Street.

When Theatre IV purchased the Empire in 1986, David wrote (for free) the copy for the fundraising video we used to help pull together the $2.3 million we needed to purchase and execute Phase I of renovation. The video starred Dee Slominski, Meredith Strange-Boston and Jody Smith Strickler as the three twisted sisters from Macbeth. It was a hoot. More importantly, it worked; we raised the needed funds.

Sometime in the 90s, David began working fulltime as a novelist. His first book, Souls to Keep, is a voodoo mystery of sorts set in the Florida Keys (if memory serves) and has to do with switched personalities. Or maybe I'm getting mixed up. It was published in 1998 with little acclaim, but I bought (and still own) something like four copies cause I like to support my writer buds.

His second book, War of the Rats, was a HUGE success. Overnight it seemed, little ole David Robbins (actually big ole David Robbins--he stands something like 6' 4" tall) became David L. Robbins, the best selling author. War of the Rats focuses on the Russian / German snipers fighting in and around Stalingrad in WWII. It served as the inspiration for Jean-Jacques Annaud's hit film Enemy at the Gates starring Jude Law.

Rats was followed in quick succession by The End of War, Scorched Earth, Last Citadel, Liberation Road, The Assassin's Gallery, The Betrayal Game, and Broken Jewel. He's now hard at work on his next novel, The Devil's Waters. In preparation for that assignment, he's been travelling around the world on cargo ships and conferring with genetic scientists. You can read all about his writerly adventures on his website:

I haven't read all his books--there's a short stack of them in my yet-to-get-to pile--but of the several I've read, Scorched Earth has always been my favorite. It concerns racial tensions in today's rural Virginia. It's a courtroom drama, full of flesh and blood characters, suspense and stirring action.

I was thrilled when David and his attorney, Barksdale Board member Bennett Fidlow, recently asked if I'd be interested in reading a stage version of Scorched Earth that David has just completed.

Last night, a small team of familiar Richmond stage faces--Ronnie Brown, Joe Inscoe, David Janeski, Thomas Nowlin, Jeanie Rule, Janine Serresseque, Jill Bari Steinberg, Ali Thibodeau, Scott Wichmann, Aly Wepplo, Eric Williams, and Irene Ziegler--performed a table read of the new script for David, Bennett, Phil Whiteway, Chase Kniffen and me. It went really well; we all were excited.

Barksdale is always eager to explore new work, and we are strongly considering producing David's new play, Scorched Earth, sometime in the near future.

Many thanks to David and all the actors who gave of their time and talents last night. I think I speak for everyone when I say it was a privilege for each of us to be together in that room.

I'll tell you more about Scorched Earth as things develop. Till then, hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

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