Brian Lee was writing plays at a time when area theaters weren't considering local playwrights.
The 1975 Warren Western Reserve High School graduate, who now lives in Youngstown, had a couple of his plays, "Night Light" and "Can You Hear Me?" produced at Trumbull New Theatre in the '90s, and each of those shows had Youngstown productions as well ("Night Light" at Victorian Players, "Hear" and Youngstown State University), but others never found a home.
"Nobody at the time was doing original scripts," Lee said.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
Rust Belt Theater Company’s production of the comedy “Family Reunion” features, standing from left to right, Vinnie Dragos, John Courter, Chris Chaibi and Tom Ewen; seated from left to right, Joyce Jones, Jennifer Milligan, David Cirelli, Donnette Bishop, Tyler Norris, Kim Voeks, Monica Beasley Martin and Joe Marshall; and front, Jacinda Madison.
Rust Belt Theater Company, which is dedicated to staging original works, encouraged Lee to dust off one of those scripts, the comedy "Family Reunion," which opens Friday for a two-weekend run at the Calvin Center.
Lee said the inspiration for the comedy, about the mishaps that occur at a family gathering, was inspired by his ex-wife's family.
"We would have the these picnics and parties," he said. "My wife and I were sane ones. We'd host these parties and these crazy people would come to the house.
When You Go
WHAT: Rust Belt Theater Company - "Family Reunion"
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and April 12-13
WHERE: Calvin Center, 755 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: $15 adults and $10 students and senior citizens. For reservations or more information, call 330-507-2358.
"Whenever we'd go to my mother-in-law's house, you'd come away either very angry at some people or with a lot of comedy, a lot of humor coming out of it. I told my ex-wife at the time, 'This would make a great play."'
Some of the characters have been exaggerated, but not all of them.
"This is real life," Lee said. "You can't make this stuff up ... The biker chick with the hippie boyfriend? That's based on my ex-sister-in-law. She had no filter. She would always say what she felt."
Lee gave a couple of his scripts to Sam Luptak, who passed "Family Reunion" on to Rust Belt founder Robert Dennick Joki, who offered to stage the show at the Calvin Center with Luptak directing.
"Family Reunion" was written about 15 years ago - "There are mentions of VCRs in it," Lee said - but he has been revising the script during the rehearsal process.
"We're doing the tweaking as we go," he said. "The actors are so funny, so talented, they come up with stuff even I can't think of."
The cast features Joe Marshall, Joyce Jones, Chris Chaibi, Vinnie Dragos, David Cirelli, Donnette Bishop, Tom Ewen, Monica Beasley Martin, Jacinda Madison, John Courter, Jen Milligan, Kim Voeks, Tyler Norris and Brittiani McNeil-Ketcham.
Lee has been splitting his time between watching rehearsals of "Family Reunion" and rehearsing down the street at the Victorian Players, where he is cast in the musical "The Fantasticks," which opens May 3.
"It's been so exciting seeing these wonderful actors that we cast bringing these things to life, not only bringing it to life but taking it another step further."