Laci Peterson's tragic death moves New York playwright to pen saga

07/05/2003 8:45 AM

11/20/2007 6:41 AM

A colorful and prolific New York City playwright and theater professor says he was moved by the tragic demise of pregnant Laci Peterson and other missing women to write a play starring Modesto.

"Modesto is the leading character in my play," said Larry Myers. "It's not about the murder but about a community in which tragic events happen."

Myers noted the high-profile slayings of three female sightseers in Yosemite -- killer Cary Stayner dropped the wallet of one of them in Modesto to throw off authorities. Myers also noted the murder in Washington, D.C., of Chandra Levy of Modesto. That became a prominent news story because of her link to then-Congressman Gary Condit.

Scott Peterson has been arrested and charged with the murders of his wife and unborn son, who was to be named Conner. He has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted. The case of the woman with the infectious smile who was reported missing on Christmas Eve has captured the attention of the national media.

"I see Modesto as sort of a new millennial 'Our Town,' and I also see this whole tragedy that has struck Modesto," Myers said in a telephone interview from San Diego, where he was visiting relatives.

He intends to call the play "Persons of Interest," a double-entendre calling to mind a police reference to criminal suspects combined with his observation that "all people are compelling."

The play, he said, could be ready for production in a couple of months.

Myers, who is "over 50 and not over 55," is an associate professor of theater at St. John's University in Jamaica, New York. He said the clincher for deciding to write the play was watching Laci Peterson's mother, Sharon Rocha, speak at a televised news conference in April. He said he broke down for the first time since his mother died three years ago.

"It was a great emotional catharsis for me," Myers said. "I just burst into uncontrollable tears. When Laci first disappeared, it was like Mother Earth had been kidnapped, to me.

"I respond very emotionally to this story," he continued, "and I always write about things I respond to emotionally."

Subjects of some of his other plays include homelessness, drug recovery and same-sex divorce. He is fond of monologues and coming up with catchy titles such as "Big Foot Dates Cher," "Hoover: The Dam, The Vacuum Cleaner, The President," "Tarantulas Dancing," "Flying Saucers Landing at Your Local Yard Sale" and "Thighs Like Tina Turner."

Descriptions of Myers in the New York press include "quirky," "offbeat," "kitsch-crazy" and "peripatetic."

Born in Pennsylvania, Myers credits famed playwright and friend Tennessee Williams with giving him the will and confidence to thrive in the off-off-Broadway parallel universe, where the average play life is three weeks.

"I'm just basically interested in real life," he said, "and theater is not in touch with what's going on."

This isn't the first time Myers has been moved to create art in the wake of tragedy. He wrote a trilogy of plays after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, collectively called "Utopia Rescheduled," but allowed only one of the three, "God's Crossword Puzzle," to go on stage.

"So many others did them and I felt they were sort of exploitative and in bad taste," Myers said. "It was like treating people's lives like flavor-of-the-month subject matter. I felt they were indecorous and not respecting those who had lost loved ones."

The same won't be said for "Persons of Interest," Myers said, "because I'm trying to look at it in a metaphoric way. My emotional response is poetic and fictionalized. It's not a docudrama."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.


Playwright Larry Myers in a 2001 "The Off-Off-Broadway Review" interview:

You have to be compulsive or addictive to do what I do.

It's like a disease or an illness. You waste your time and beat yourself up doing it.

You certainly aren't getting fame or cash. You have to love ideas and language and maybe failure. Theater people are very impressionable and vulnerable. They are bleeding all the time.

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