Although he first pursued a career in journalism, including a three-year stint as a municipal reporter for the Hudson Reporter Newspapers chain, Weehawken resident Alex Ladd always felt like he was a playwright.
"It always was in the back of my mind," said the 39-year-old Ladd. "Writing plays was always something I wanted to do. I wasn't ready when I went to college and I was being practical in finding a job, finding something to pay the bills. But I was always writing creatively, ever since I was young."
Ladd's first full-length production, entitled "Chekhov's Rifle," is being performed at the Greenwich Street Theatre in lower Manhattan, starring veteran stage, film and TV star Austin Pendleton, through Oct. 4.
Ladd has experienced quite a journey to become a respected playwright, coming from his roots in his native Brazil.
"I was born in Brazil, but my Dad is an American and my mother Brazilian," Ladd said. "I came to the United States when I was 7 years old, reluctantly, because all my friends were in Brazil and I had a good life there. It was a bit of a traumatic thing for me, so I was hesitant learning English when we moved to Washington, D.C. I thought I could get by just speaking Portuguese."
Ladd grew up in Washington, then came to New York to study journalism at New York University.
While attending NYU, Ladd earned an internship at the New York Daily News, but after graduating college, Ladd wanted to travel the world instead of settling into a life in journalism right away.
"I took a huge leave of absence from reality for a while," Ladd said. "I wanted to travel around Europe instead of working. I drove a New York City cab for a while to earn money, but by the time I got to Nicaragua and came down with food poisoning, when I had to come home, that's when I knew I needed a job."
In 1989, he applied for a position as a reporter with the Hudson Reporter newspapers.
"I started out covering a little bit of Hoboken. Then I covered Jersey City," Ladd said. "I remember those times well. We had a lot of talented people at the paper then. It really was a lot of fun. As someone just starting out in the business, I was able to have an entire city as a beat. I wasn't getting a lot of money, but I had a good time."
Ladd remained at the Hudson Reporter until late 1991.
"I think what happened is that I wanted the experience to write at a big paper, but after the Hudson Dispatch folded, I knew that maybe there were less and less opportunities," Ladd said. "I needed to look for alternative work. I was also getting burned out from writing news. I loved to write creatively. It was just time for me to go."
Instead of pursuing another writing position, Ladd took on a different role - as a translator.
"One day, I was covering a story at the International Institute in Jersey City," Ladd said. "I discovered that they had an interpreting service and that they were in need of someone who spoke Portuguese."
At the same time, the state of New Jersey started testing interpreters, so Ladd took both the Spanish and Portuguese translator tests and earned very high scores.
"I think that's what made it possible to make the true transition into becoming a translator full-time," Ladd said. "I decided to do it, because I loved languages, but it also gave me enough time to write creatively."
Ladd became a translator in several venues, especially court proceedings where the defendants do not speak English.
"I finally had financial stability," Ladd said. "If I was ever going to pursue playwriting, this was the time to do it."
Ladd joined up with a Manhattan-based writer's group called Present Tense Company, where they would hold sessions for aspiring writers to have their work read.
"Actors would come to read the plays," Ladd said. "We met like once a week. This helped me to become more polished. A bunch of us pooled our resources and did a showcase of one-act plays. I found it all to be intoxicating."
In 1998, Ladd's one-act play, "Nicetown," was featured in one of the showcases. It was a comedy about the transition New York City was undergoing during the Rudy Giuliani administration and the transformation of Times Square.
"I think that made me a better writer," Ladd said.
Ladd's plays were featured in four such showcases before he got the chance to have "Chekhov's Rifle" performed with the Actor's Equity's blessing. He received a grant from the New Jersey Council of the Arts in order to produce the show.
"You sign a contract with the Equity union and the actors work without having to pay the going rate," Ladd said. "You are able to secure the actors for a limited number of performances, but the actors are very talented."
Ladd thinks that having his play performed is a much better experience than simply having his plays read by prospective producers.
"This way, you learn by doing," Ladd said. "It's a huge difference seeing the play acted out. You get to have direct contact with the actors."
Ladd described his play as a black comedy.
"The play features two roommates who live on the upper West Side," Ladd said. "One is a writer and the other is an actor. The writer purchases a rifle that once belonged to the writer Anton Chekhov. The play pokes fun at a lot of theatrical genres and traditions and features the situation between the writer and a lost vestige of old-school writing. He sort of feels embattled by reality television and feels excluded from the big picture. The actor represents everything the writer detests and sets up this conflict. I think it pokes fun at the role of the writer today."
Ladd said that he was overjoyed to be able to secure the services of Pendleton, who is known for his role as the bumbling public defender in "My Cousin Vinny," as the henchman in "The Muppet Movie," and as the chauffeur to Shirley MacLaine in "Guarding Tess." He also provides the voice for Bubbles in "Finding Nemo."
"I'm so excited having Austin," said Ladd, who is also producing the production. "Each performance he gives is different. He feeds off the audience and changes things nightly."
Ladd said that the show received a favorable review from the New York Times after it opened last week. It will run nightly through Oct. 4.
"It really has been a thrill," Ladd said. "I never imagined Austin would sign on. He really has helped the show's identity. I've been so crazy, producing and writing, that I haven't been able to step back and truly enjoy it, but it's definitely given me the desire to do it again."
Ladd said that he is always sending new plays out to prospective producers. He has three other full-length shows that he wants to pursue, not to mention hundreds of other ideas that are works in progress.
"I really have about 100 different files on my computer that I keep adding to every so often," Ladd said. "Whenever I get an idea, I revisit them and dedicate more time to them. I try not to work on just one at a time. It's not fun that way. It works better for me that way."
Chekhov's Rifle, written by Weehawken's Alex Ladd, is being performed at the Greenwich Street Theatre, 547 Greenwich Street, in New York (Soho section) through October 4. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are priced at $15. For ticket information, call (212) 868-4444, or go online at www.Smarttix.com.