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David Lawrence

David Lawrence

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After a circuitous route that included stints as a teacher in China, a scriptwriter at a low-budget exploitation production company and a journalist, Warren Leight found critical acclaim and popular success with his autobiographical drama "Side Man," produced on the New York stage in 1998. The New York native crafted a memory play that explored the familial relationships among a jazz trumpeter, his alcoholic wife and their son caught in the middle. Originally produced in a small theater off-off-Broadway, the show transferred to off-Broadway and then finally to Broadway (with Christian Slater in the leading role) where it was one of the three finalists for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.Leight grew up in Manhattan as what he called "the hero child" of two neurotics always living on the edge of poverty. After winning a full scholarship to Stanford where he studied journalism, he returned to NYC and embarked on a variety of odd jobs with the primary intention of supporting his parents. An article written for the VILLAGE VOICE on where to find the best public bathrooms in NYC formed the basis for his "The I Hate New York Guidebook." In turn, that piece of comic writing coupled with the memoirs of Ed...

After a circuitous route that included stints as a teacher in China, a scriptwriter at a low-budget exploitation production company and a journalist, Warren Leight found critical acclaim and popular success with his autobiographical drama "Side Man," produced on the New York stage in 1998. The New York native crafted a memory play that explored the familial relationships among a jazz trumpeter, his alcoholic wife and their son caught in the middle. Originally produced in a small theater off-off-Broadway, the show transferred to off-Broadway and then finally to Broadway (with Christian Slater in the leading role) where it was one of the three finalists for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Leight grew up in Manhattan as what he called "the hero child" of two neurotics always living on the edge of poverty. After winning a full scholarship to Stanford where he studied journalism, he returned to NYC and embarked on a variety of odd jobs with the primary intention of supporting his parents. An article written for the VILLAGE VOICE on where to find the best public bathrooms in NYC formed the basis for his "The I Hate New York Guidebook." In turn, that piece of comic writing coupled with the memoirs of Ed Koch became the basis for the successful Off-Broadway revue "Mayor!" (1985).

By that time, Leight had also begun a stint as a screenwriter at Troma Studios, a low-budget exploitation production company headquartered in Manhattan. Reportedly, he wrote, rewrote or doctored some 25 scripts, receiving credit for such efforts as "Mother's Day" (1980) and "Stuck on You!" (1983). Leight also co-authored Doris Dorrie's controversial "Me and Him" (1988), about a man (Griffin Dunne) who converses with his penis (voiced by Mark-Linn Baker). He segued to the director's chair with the charming although lightweight "The Night We Never Met" (1993), a romantic comedy about a trio of young professionals who all share a prime New York apartment on alternating days. Leight also penned the original script for "Dear God" (1996), about a con man postal worker, but was dismayed to have the project taken away from him. After 11 additional writers left their imprints on the film, the released version stilled credited Leight as one of the screenwriters.

Dismayed by his Hollywood experiences, Leight turned to the theater and quickly wrote "Side Man." After a staged reading in 1996, he spent the next two years developing the material. As he was approaching his upbringing from the viewpoint of someone facing middle age, he brought a deeper measure of understanding and forgiveness to the characters. Most of the events depicted in the play are factual (though compressed for dramatic effect). While seemingly very specific, the themes proved universal. Leight has stated in several interviews that audience members have reacted by telling him that they see their father on stage. "I've had to get over thinking they were all musicians," he has said, "Turns out they were stockbrokers, or a professor at Stanford . . ." Of course, with the success of the play, Hollywood beckoned once again. Though a screen version of "Side Man" is a possibility, Leight seemed more content to continue to focus on the theater, with a new play "The Glimmer Brothers" (also set in the world of jazz musicians) that premiered at the 1999 Williamstown Theatre Festival.

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