Arts & Culture

Playwright James Walczy talks about the story behind 10-minute play 'Dear Susan, Love Harold'

James Walczy, author of "Dear Susan, Love Harold"
James Walczy, author of "Dear Susan, Love Harold"

James Walczy picked up a different sort of hobby in retirement -- short-play writing. The Washington, D.C., ad man retired about two years ago to Hilton Head Island and started entering his work into short play festivals across the country. So far, he's had success.

His latest play, "Dear Susan, Love Harold," will be performed at the Heartland Theatre Company's annual Summer Play Festival at Illinois State University. The play is about an older man who discovers what seems to be a box of love letters his wife has received from another man. It was one of eight plays selected out of about 350 submissions.

His comedy pieces have also been staged elsewhere, including theaters in New York City and Baltimore.

Walczy, a Detroit native, explains how he came to write 10-minute plays.

Question. How did you get into play writing?

Answer. I was the creative director for my ad agency. I always wrote radio and television and loved dialogue. I came down here and thought, what can I do? I can't play golf all the time. I've always loved to write. I thought I'd take a look at something called 10-minute plays. There's this whole genre of complete plays in 10 minutes.

I liked writing comedy. I had wanted to write for Sid Caesar when I was a kid. So, I started writing these 10-minute comedy plays.

I wrote a couple, but what I was doing was more like a sketch, like on "Saturday Night Live." I later discovered what I needed was more like a full play -- beginning, middle, end -- all in 10 minutes.

Q. "Dear Susan, Love Harold" is more of a drama.

A. Last Christmas my family was here, and I wrote my first drama. I gave it to my wife, who always reads my writing, and she said, "This is strong." I said, "Really?"

Some of these festivals surround a theme. This festival (Heartland) had to involve a package. I wrote "Dear Susan, Love Harold" surrounding this box of letters.

Q. Is it difficult to chop a play down to just 10 minutes?

A. I just write, and it usually comes down to about 15 minutes. And then I just read it and read it and read it. And you realize there's a lot of stuff that can come out. Things that can be explained in three words rather than two sentences, lots of adjectives that can be cut. Can't say I've ever written one too short.

Q. Any plans to write a full-length play?

A. I don't think I have the attention span. By the time I get to the end I'll forget the beginning.


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