The Levis JCC Sandler Center has kicked off its 2019-20 black box theater lineup with local playwright Michael McKeever’s Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors, presented by West Boca Theatre Company and running through Dec. 22.
“We’re thrilled to present ‘Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors’ as our stellar season opener,” says Alan Nash, assistant director for the Sandler Center. “This is our fourth production of Michael’s work.” In 2015, Daniel’s Husband premiered there, and in 2017 the center produced McKeever’s The Camp.
McKeever also stars in the current production, which is directed by Carbonell award winner Stuart Meltzer, McKeever’s husband and the artistic director and co-founder with McKeever of Zoetic Stage, the performing arts theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.
“It’s always fun to examine a character that you’ve written from a different point of view. You uncover new aspects of that character,” says McKeever about inhabiting a character he created. “It’s like sewing a coat and slipping it on.”
Nash said that despite its dark subject matter, the play is quite funny and even joyous.
“Michael is a delight to work with and delivers unsurpassed quality,” says Nash. “This is one of his most popular comedies. It’s a dark comedy, but smart, with well-paced dialogue and we’re proud to bring such great quality theater to our stage.”
The show, originally conceived in 2003, ran at the old Florida Stage in Manalapan and won the Carbonell Award for Best New Work the following year.
The play recounts the story of Charlie Cox — a man who paradoxically learns to live as he is diagnosed with ALS — a terminal illness. Desperate to find some meaning to his life, Cox takes off on a road trip and stumbles on the great love of his life in the middle of nowhere.
“It’s almost a fable,” says McKeever. “Once Cox finds out he has a terminal disease and falls in love, it’s a contest between love and death fighting for his soul.”
McKeever was inspired to write the play based on the true-life story of his friend and actress, Marcia Mahone, who played the lead in his first play The Garden of Hannah List at Florida Stage in 1998 and who died of ALS in 2002.
McKeever says his challenge in writing the play was “how to address the issue of death and make the story funny and uplifting, despite its dark subject matter.”
“It’s really a comedy about learning how to live,” he says. “It embraces life and has a happy ending.”
McKeever didn’t set out to be a playwright. He studied marketing and illustration and worked as an art director. At age 30, he began writing commercials for television. He found he had a knack for creating realistic-sounding dialogue, which he says made his work popular.
Thanks to luck, tenacity, ambition, timing and the ability to “play well with others,” McKeever has become one of South Florida’s most prolific playwrights. He enjoys the collaborative nature of the theater.
“Whenever you deal with the creative process, it’s important to listen, keep an ear open and listen to what the actors, directors and set designers have to say,” says McKeever. “The characters might start off in your head, but you have to work with others to bring them to life.”
His plays have been produced around the world, including at Penguin Rep, Marin Theatre Company, NCTC, Phoenix Theatre, Island City Stage, Stage West, Komödie Dresden in Germany, Och-Teatr in Poland and Theater in der Josefstadt in Austria.
He received the prestigious George Abbott Award and his work has been nominated four times for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics New Play Award.
In addition to his Carbonell and Silver Palm Awards, McKeever is an NEA grant recipient.
Offered the opportunity to relocate to New York, McKeever, who was born in Florida, says he prefers to remain in South Florida and believes there is a lot of creative energy, as well as new playwrights such as Sarah DeLappe, Marco Ramirez and Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight), percolating in the region.
However, he says he loves the “energy and excitement of New York,” and hopes to continue working in the theater and having his works produced there. For the future, he is broadening his horizons to include new mediums such as film, TV and Netflix. He already has an agent and some possible opportunities but says he will take it “one step at a time.”
Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors can be seen at 2 pm and 7:30 pm on Thursdays, Dec. 12 and 19; 7:30 pm on Saturdays, December 14, and 21; and 2 pm on Sundays, December 15, and 22. General admission is $30. Tickets are $30l; call 561-558-2520 or visit levisjcc.org.