University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Playwright-in-Residence’s Work Featured

MyattBWThe UT Michener Center for Writers will sponsor a reading of the award-winning play The Happy Ones by its current Michener Residency Author,  Julie Marie Myatt, at 7 p.m., Thursday, October 28, at the Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302 on the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway.

Myatt is a Los Angeles-based playwright whose most recent productions include Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, the story of an amputee GI and her difficult return from the war in Iraq; Boats on a River, which deals with Cambodian sex-slave trafficking; and Someday, a piece about reproductive rights, commissioned by Cornerstone Theater for its Justice Cycle.  But Myatt can’t be pigeon-holed as the author of “issue plays”—her work is much subtler than that. “Julie says everything she wants to say . . . without really having to say it,” Cornerstone’s artistic director Michael John Garcés says.

Living the dream life in suburban Orange County, California, in 1975, The Happy One’s protagonist, appliance salesman Walter Wells, is a man who has it all—until sudden calamity descends on his perfect life.  At the same time, the area is experiencing its first influx of refugees from the fall of Saigon, and an unlikely friendship develops between Walter and Bao Ngo, a refugee who bears his own recent sorrows.  Across a cultural divide, the two look to each other for a way back, if not to happiness, at least to peace.

c. 1972 Bill Owens from SUBURBIA

c. 1972 Bill Owens from SUBURBIA

Myatt’s own early life was shaped by the Vietnam War, where her father served two tours of duty during her toddler years. But personal history alone wasn’t the impetus for the play. She became interested in the undercurrents beneath idyllic family lives when she saw the photography of Bill Owens in his seminal book, Suburbia, published in 1973. His was the first major photographic exploration of middle-class lives and the book, according to an LA Times review at the time, “rouses pity, contempt, laughter and self-recognition.” Echoing Owen’s themes, Julie says of her subjects, “I want to write about what is interesting in American life and what is dead about it.”

The Michener Residency Author program brings distinguished writers to campus for three-week stays, during which they mentor students in workshops and manuscript conferences. Myatt is the first playwright to be selected for the program.

The play will be read by five actors, and the event is free and open to the public.

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