When he converted one of his short stories into a play, what surprised Alfred C. Martino most was the pain he felt even decades after the real-life event that inspired the story.
Although the story is fictional, it has roots in the loss of Martino’s best friend as a child, a tragedy that resonates in Martino and in the play.
“When something happens like that when you’re that young, it changes you,” he said. “It makes you see the world differently, with less hope.”
Martino’s play “Waiting for a Friend” has been accepted into the New York New Works Theater Festival with a performance scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Elektra Theatre, W. 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue, near Times Square.
Martino, who has lived in Jersey City since 1998, said he was surprised at the depth of his feelings after so many years.
“I didn’t think it would be so profound,” said the Hamilton Park resident. “It’s painful, and it changed life drastically.”
“Waiting For A Friend” is about a middle-aged man who imagines an unexpected visit from his high school best friend who died tragically when they were young. In the encounter, the man must come to terms with lost innocence, a life cut short, and the unstoppable passage of time.
Martino grew up in Short Hills where his best friend, Jim, was killed while attending Millburn High School. Jim was hit by a truck while crossing a highway.
“That part of the play is autobiographical,” he said, and though decades had past, the teen angst still felt fresh.
“Once people get into their 50s, they reevaluate their lives,” Martino said.
With the death in the past, the question remained of how life might have been different if the loss hadn’t happened. Could life have become what he wanted when he and his friend were young and anything seemed possible?
“Things like this change your outlook; you’re suddenly forced to realize that life is not fair,” he said. “This is not being morose. But everything after that seemed tainted. Life wasn’t always going to be good.”
His first drama
Although Martino has written young-adult novels as well as screenplays, this was his first venture into writing for the stage.
At the suggestion of Bill Vysotsky, one of two actors in the play, Martino adapted a short story he had written.
“Bill got me into the whole thing, telling me I should write a play,” Martino said.
Vysotsky and Lou Pipon, both of them veteran New York and New Jersey stage actors, play the leads in this two person play. Vysotsky also directs.
The play essentially is about the older character looking back and having a conversation with the friend who died, trying to come to grips with what happened and how life changed.
Martino said he started writing in 1992. After high school, he attended Duke University.
He was in the second year at Marshall Graduate School of Business at the University of Southern California, getting an MBA, when he decided he might as well try writing. Although his career as a screenwriter didn’t pan out (largely because he didn’t dedicate night and day to self promotion), he eventually published three highly-acclaimed novels about high school sports, “Pinned,” “Over The End Line,” and “Perfected by Girls.”
Martino also runs a very successful audio books business in Union City, tying his literary ambitions with his education.
The two actors in the play are professionals who have performed around the area for years.
Vysotsky has generated a local and international fan following from his dozens of performances in Tri-State area, as well as in Ukraine and Russia. His significant roles include the leads in “A View From The Bridge” (Studio Playhouse), “Rumors” (Pax Amicus Theater), and “As You Like It” (Yalta Theater).
Pipon has performed on stage at theaters in New York and New Jersey, including Teaneck New Theatre (“Spamalot”), the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, and the Union County Performing Arts Center.
Running time for the full play is about 40 minutes, but for the festival, Martino had to cut it to 23 minutes.
“Actually, it should be a lot longer, maybe even an hour,” he said, noting that he hopes to expand it later if the play does well. “There’s a lot to explore.”
Although the play is one night, if it does well in judging, it may go to the semifinals and then possibly the finals.
For additional information, go to the website http://www.nynwtheatrefestival.com/book-tickets.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org