Playwright Ray Werner says his latest offering is “a true story that never happened, about real people who never existed.”
If that sounds like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, it’s not really.
“Run the Rabbit Path,” which will have its world premiere Feb. 2 with opening night of a PICT Classic Theatre production, was inspired by Werner’s parents and his early years growing up “in a house on the side of a hill” in Freedom, Beaver County — but it’s not a literal retelling of events.
He says it could be set in any town in Western Pennsylvania’s coal and steel country, and it could apply to any family, so universal are its themes.
“In the shadow of Pittsburgh’s steel mills, the plot focuses on two Irish-American brothers and their sister as they struggle through the trauma of planning their father’s wake, in the kitchen where he died the day before. Their father’s love guides them through the morass of emotions as they stumble onto the mystery of the rabbit path,” says a PICT summary.
Past, present, future
The 90-minute, one-act play takes place in that kitchen, where the siblings deal with family issues past, present and future, including selling the house in which they sit.
Sibling rivalries and past “resentments and disappointments” inevitably get stirred up, Werner says, but that’s not the end of the story.
“The father’s presence is felt and one brother even hears his voice from time to time,” he says. “They discuss his life and what he left them, and this helps them resolve some of these issues. It happens in every family — nothing is perfect but love can overcome it all, if you let it.”
Werner “creates the potential for theater out of his own experience and always with a love of humanity in all its frailty,” says director Alan Stanford. “His characters breathe the air of Pittsburgh. You can meet any and all of them on the streets of our city.
“‘Run the Rabbit Path’ shows a deep understanding of the love and laughter, as well as the sorrows and inadequacies of any family, and the loss we feel when a deeply loved parent finally goes to his rest,” he says.
Cast members include Karen Baum as Patty, Tony Bingham as Tommy, Reed Alan Worth as Charlie and James FitzGerald as Pop.
Just a blueprint
“Run the Rabbit Path” had its origins in a writing workshop. Stanford first saw it at a staged reading at Threadbare Cider House in Pittsburgh’s North Side and thought it would make a suitable PICT production.
Point Breeze resident Werner is a former advertising executive who turned exclusively to play-writing after retirement. He’s been involved with PICT and other local arts and nonprofit organizations over the years, although this is the first time PICT has staged one of his plays.
His work was showcased during the recent Ray Werner Play Festival, which ran Nov. 8-Dec. 2 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.
“I write for actors. With (‘Rabbit Path’), I have four great actors, and I’m humbled by their dedication and talent,” he says. “I give them a blueprint, but my work is nothing until they turn it into something.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.