Reality TV and the Drive to Succeed, in “Trouble Cometh”

With income inequality growing, Richard Dresser says we’re all surrounded by great wealth as well as poverty and homelessness. Politicians don’t even talk about the middle class anymore, he points out, just about “hard-working Americans.” He wanted to explore that — along with reality TV and how that affects us — in his latest play, Trouble Cometh, opening Saturday, May 16 at the SF Playhouse.

“It’s about the increasingly desperate struggle to stay afloat and what we’re up against,” he said. “It’s like there’s no room between total success and abject failure.”

That may sound a little heavy and serious – but it’s not. Trouble Cometh is a comedy, He’s always been able to write about the grimmer side of life in an entertaining way, Dresser said He finds it particularly easy to write dialogue, which is how he got into theater in the first place. He was working in radio news and decided to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for graduate school in broadcasting. He had to sign up for either an advertising or theater class, and he choose theater, thinking it would just be a class he had to get through. That wasn’t how it worked out.

“As soon as I started writing dialogue, I could feel something happening. I stayed up all night,” Dresser said. “It definitely changed the course of my life.”

When Dresser was just out of college and didn’t know what he wanted to do, he worked all sorts of jobs, including as a night watchman, a security guard, and in factories. He also worked for corporations, writing industrial films, where he got to know about corporate culture, which he thinks has its own language and behavior. He tapped into that for Trouble Cometh, where people will do pretty much anything in order to succeed at their jobs.

“It’s sort of in the vein of plays I really like to see,” he said. “Dark material presented in a comic way.”

Along with writing plays, Dresser also works in TV (which also came in handy for Trouble Cometh, particularly the pitching) and for movies. He’s always drawn back to the theater though.

“It’s the one place where writer is king — not with money, but artistically, you can do whatever you want. In TV or movies, your stuff goes through a process, and you don’t own your work. In the theater you do, and it’s a profound difference,” Dresser said. “You go through the experience of putting work you care about onstage with the actors and director and producer and if you have the right people involved, as with Trouble Cometh, it makes you better. It’s a process that’s very alive.”

Trouble Cometh, through June 27 at the SF Playhouse, 450 Post, 415-677-9596.

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