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Kathleen Wallace and Jason MacDonald in Dennis Lehane's, Coronado

"Mr. Lehane, a novelist whose books include "Mystic River" (the source of the Clint Eastwood film), makes smart choices in "Coronado," his first play. He starts things off in a tried-and-true setting, one of those bars that exist primarily in theater, where people go to have loud life-changing conversations that no thinking person would hold within earshot of strangers. But once he has set the tone by invoking the conventions of the genre - shady characters; sex and murder in the air - he shakes things up by throwing the rules of time out the window. Three pairs of drinkers inhabit this barroom at the start: a psychiatrist and his female patient (Jason MacDonald and Kathleen Wallace), who are arguing about the sex they have already had; a married woman and her lover (Rebecca Miller and Lance Rubin), who look as if they might have sex right there in the saloon; and a father and son (Gerry Lehane - Dennis's brother - and Avery Clark), who are preoccupied with a stolen gemstone. The fun is in seeing how these tableaus are connected (a puzzle that's not completed until the action shifts to a fairground in Act II). The playwright doles it all out at an admirable speed, so that you're figuring the secrets out just about the time he's revealing them - not an easy trick. The actors of the Invisible City Theater Company, under David Epstein's direction, play it full throttle, as if to say, "So what if the peak of the barroom/diner play was back in the last century?" The claustrophobic Manhattan Theater Source space meshes nicely with the material, too."

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OFF THE PAGE

Gerry and Dennis Lehane on the set of Coronado

Gerry and Dennis Lehane on the set of Coronado

"While he's not about to quit his day job as a best-selling novelist, Dennis Lehane has certainly been adding to his profile. Last season he wrote an episode of HBO's series The Wire, and his movie portfolio keeps growing: Fellow Bostonian Ben Affleck just signed on to write and direct a film version of his 1998 novel,Gone, Baby, Gone. Apparently not content with the big and little screens, Lehane is now branching into theater: He has adapted his 2004 short story "Until Gwen" into a play called Coronado, which runs through December 17 at Manhattan Theatre Source. But don't expect Lehane's stage debut to involve star-studded, multimillion-dollar production values like the 2003 film version of Mystic River. Instead, Coronado—a psychodrama about a stolen diamond and a doomed love affair—makes its humble bow in a 55-seat theater with a cast of relative unknowns. Lehane isn't the first famous writer to choose a small theater for his debut play. Novelists Denis Johnson and Don DeLillo tested the playwriting waters with Shoppers Carried by Escalators into the Flames and Valparaiso, respectively, without going anywhere near the Great White Way. So why aren't these literary heavyweights parlaying name recognition into big marquees and bigger paychecks? In Lehane's case, the answer is familial. His introduction to Coronado's producer, Invisible City Theater Company, came from his brother, Gerry, who is a member. Last Christmas, Gerry invited members of his troupe up to Boston. It was there that the idea for the play was hatched over beers in a basement rec room. Lehane freely admits to being a naif when it comes to theater. "Coronado came out of this idea like, 'Hey, my dad's got a barn. Let's put on a show,'" the author explains via e-mail from his teaching post at the University of Florida. "This summer, I went down to New York and workshopped the first act with a lot of the actors who ended up in the final cast. I'd go back at night and rewrite existing scenes and then compose completely new scenes for the second act. A few weeks later, we had a play." Lehane found the collaborative process a revitalizing, energetic, creative time: "Weeks like that are why I became a writer," he says. While Lehane may be enjoying a change of pace from the solitary life of a novelist, the stakes are higher for Invisible City. A script with such a high-profile author is a gift for this struggling Off-Off Broadway troupe. "Our theater company is our life," director/producer David Epstein says. "Collaborating with a writer like Lehane is the kind of crazy luck you only dream of having."

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Avery Clark and Gerry Lehane in, Coronado

IN A RELATED STORY

"Boston writer Dennis Lehane had this opening sentence kicking around in his head for eight years, but no place to put it: ''Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat." He couldn't for the life of him find the right vehicle for it; it just didn't fit into anything he was working on. Then he was asked to write a short story for an anthology, with one requirement: It had to have something to do with fathers and sons. ''Until Gwen" was also published in The Atlantic Monthly and was selected for both ''The Best American Short Stories" and ''The Best Mystery Short Stories" of 2005. Dennis, whose best-known work is ''Mystic River," (more...)

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Coronado premiered at Manhattan Theatre Source and was produced by Invisible City Theater Company and Dennis Lehane, and directed by Mr. Epstein. It was named a 2006 Independent Theatre Award Nominee for Best Original Play.

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