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William Missouri Downs visits Pioneer Playhouse to watch his play – The Advocate-Messenger

World-renowned playwright William Missouri Downs traveled to Danville on Saturday to watch the cast of Pioneer Playhouse perform his play, “Cockeyed.”

Downs has over 300 productions of his comedies and musicals, and has won numerous writing awards, including two premieres from the National New Play Network. He was a writer on the NBC sitcom “My Two Dads” and a freelance writer on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Amen.”

Downs flew in from Denver, Colorado to be in the audience on Saturday. After the show, Downs took the stage to answer questions from the audience and cast.

Artistic director Robby Henson said Pioneer Playhouse made “Cockeyed” about nine years ago and decided to bring it back because they loved Downs’ writing and wanted a play with a smaller cast. The theater played other plays by Downs, but he had never been there to see one.

Downs said he loved seeing the play again. Since he wrote “Cockeyed” almost 15 years ago, he barely remembered what it was about.

“I saw you do that and I thought ‘I haven’t seen that in so long’; I had completely forgotten about it, so I came over and it was like seeing it for the first time said Downs.

“Cockeyed” is a modern romantic comedy with a philosophical twist. The main character Phil, played by Adian Chapman, was a college philosophy student. He falls madly in love with a colleague, Sophia, played by Peyton White. However, Sophia literally cannot see Phil.

The play jokes about the stereotype that philosophy students can’t get jobs and can’t attract beautiful women. Phil spends much of the play monologue on this topic and exploring philosophical ideas about his unique situation.

During the question-and-answer session, Downs said that he was not a philosophy student, but he enjoyed philosophy very much.

“I love reading philosophy because I think philosophy solves so many problems in our lives,” Downs said.

Chapman said he liked Downs’ writing in this play, despite the fact that his character Phil had by far the most lines of any character.

“This role made me work very, very hard,” Chapman said. “That role was like ‘okay, if you want to know those words, you gotta learn them, and you gotta know what you’re saying, you gotta like what you say, and you gotta find something you like about of Phil. It made me dive into my craft harder than I had ever dived before.

Downs said he thought every actor was perfect for their role.

“I thought you were wonderfully sleepy,” Downs told Silas Waugh, who played sleazy boss Vice President Marley, who is Sophia’s boyfriend in the play.

“I couldn’t be happier with the cast,” Downs said.

The play’s director, Erika Lee Sengstack, said that after the first week of performances, the chemistry and flow of the actors on stage was even more alive. With the final play of the season a week away, she hopes the energy will continue.

White said what she enjoyed most about the play was, “Finding these little moments and little pockets that we could create, things that weren’t necessarily in the words of the script, but creating little pieces that had those truths in them.”

Several members of the public asked Downs about his life and career. When asked how he got his name, Downs said he chose his name after a great-great-grandmother, Sandal Missouri Downs, who kept her own name in marriage around 1900.

“I knelt by his grave and thought, ‘Anyone with that kind of strength, I need their name,'” he said. “I always say create yourself, don’t be yourself; and I didn’t know who I was, so I created myself as William Missouri Downs.

Downs retained his strength as a writer after years of struggling to succeed in Hollywood. When asked to give advice to young writers and actors, he said if they really wanted to do it, they just had to keep going. He said Dave Ramsey taught him how to manage money when there were tough times in his career.

He said nights like Saturdays are ultimately the reason they do it.

“Just a wonderful night at the theater, in the middle of Kentucky, with the chirping of crickets; that’s what it’s all about, sitting back and laughing, having a good time,” Downs said.

“Cockeyed” will continue until August 6 with performances every night from Tuesday to Saturday.

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