By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Moriarty has made other changes for his sophomore season. Some subscriptions now come with invitations to pre- and post-show cocktail parties. Promotional tie-ins with nearby restaurants and bars encourage theatergoing as a social activity for singles. And after every performance, audience members will be invited to stick around for informal conversations with directors and actors.
After all, seeing plays and talking about them is what drove Moriarty to a life in the theater in the first place.
Scene 6: Humble beginnings
Born to Goldwater-Republican parents in Rensselaer, Indiana, population 5,500, Kevin Moriarty was a kid so hyperactive, he says the "hippie nuns" at St. Augustine elementary school allowed him to leave class and run rings around the building until he calmed down. While other students studied arithmetic, Sister Donna let Kevin sing and dance to the only three LPs the tiny school owned: the original cast recordings of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and Johnny Cash's live recording, At Folsom Prison.
Playing Oliver Twist in a school musical when he was 8 made him "happier and more at home than I'd ever felt in my life." The nuns counseled Kevin's lawyer-father and housewife-mom to encourage their son's creativity. Season tickets were ordered for the nearest professional theaters, two hours away in Chicago and Indianapolis. On long car rides home, Kevin, his three sisters and their parents would discuss what they'd seen.
"Those late-night conversations in the dark would start with 'What did you think of the play?' and then would invariably grow to be about something larger," Moriarty says. "We could talk about values or politics or people or places that were so different from my experience in this small town in Indiana."
The first gay character he ever saw was when his parents took him to a road tour of A Chorus Line. "There's a moment where the father reaches out to the gay son," he says. "I was probably in sixth or seventh grade at the time and absolutely knew that I was gay. And my parents did not know. I thought I would never act on it as long as I lived. My parents weren't homophobic. They were just homo-silent."
But their conversation in the car that night allowed Moriarty's family to talk about gay people—one of the few times they did until Kevin came out in his 20s. "They didn't respond with disgust at this character. So I felt safe," he says. "Those experiences with art in general, theater specifically, those connected me to my family and to a much broader world than Rensselaer, Indiana."
This is what theater can do, he adds. What it should do.
Moriarty, still uncertain about how to create a life in theater, studied music education at University of Wisconsin. In his first job at a public school in La Crescent, Minnesota, he was told he had to direct a play. He chose the Greek tragedy Medea, which he described to the principal as being about "a strong woman who has a lot of children," neglecting to mention she murders them. Two hundred dollars' worth of fake blood poured off the teenage actors. It was a hit, and Moriarty says he was hooked on directing, particularly shows that call for "spectacle and large gestures."
With his father urging him to apply to theater graduate school, Moriarty made his first trip to New York in 1993. He was accepted into the conservatory at Trinity Rep and never looked back, though he did leave his mark on Rensselaer. Because theater was such an important part of his son's life, Kevin's father (who died suddenly during Kevin's first year at Trinity Rep) convinced other civic leaders to organize a summer children's musical theater program. It continues to this day.
We need theater in our lives, at all ages, because it helps to see other people's stories acted out, Moriarty says. "If you see August: Osage County [this year's Pulitzer winner for drama] you're going to talk about it and how it's like your family. Those conversations—that's been the way my life has worked."
Scene 7: Triumphal march
After his high-octane opening speech about Tommy, Moriarty and his cast take a short break. Some linger in the lobby, others head out for a smoke and a thaw in the sunshine on the front patio.
Lead actor Cedric Neal rushes to Liz Mikel's side to share his impression of their new director. "He's life! He's energy! He's a breath of fresh air, isn't he?"
"Kevin grabs your heart immediately," Mikel says. "He seems committed to this community and its actors."
In this last full season for DTC in the theater that Wright built, this first big show is, says Moriarty, a tribute to the director who started it all.
"Fifty years ago Paul Baker was in his creative prime," Moriarty says. "This theater was seen as brave, bold, exciting and youthful. It was important for me to reconnect with that. It seemed to me that the first show of this season should celebrate and announce ourselves in that way. It will certainly wake up our subscribers!"
The actors are waved back inside, where they will spend their first full-fledged rehearsal practicing Tommy's finale. On chairs and stools clustered at one end of the lobby, Neal and Mikel are among the dozen actors who listen to musical director Lindy Heath Cabe go over Townshend's lyrics for the last song in the show: "Listening to you, I get the music/Gazing at you, I get the heat/Following you, I climb the mountains/I get excitement at your feet." They will sing the lines of this rock hymn again and again, syllable by syllable, note by note, late into the evening.