“I have a long history of being a fish out of water,” says playwright Robert Askins, originally of Cypress, Texas, whose youth inspired him to pen his Tony-nominated debut, Hand to God (2011), a dramedy about a Christian puppet ministry.
“Moving from Republican-filled Cypress to diverse downtown Houston at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, followed by the wealth and privilege of Baylor, to New York City’s Broadway institutions, it’s been one huge shift after another,” he says. “Most of my life has been not belonging to the room I’m in.”
Art imitates life in Askins’s newest play, The Carpenter, which will be performed this month at the Alley Theatre’s All New Festival, two weekends of readings and workshops from buzzy and up-and-coming playwrights.
The plot centers around Dan, a self-made businessman from Houston with a blue-collar upbringing, who’s having second thoughts about marrying an affluent Highland Park debutante at her parents’ palatial mansion in Dallas. When a carpenter who looks alarmingly like the groom arrives to build a
gazebo for the ceremony, chaos ensues.
“I find it difficult to write without being personal,” says Askins, who discovered he had a brother in Dallas two years ago. “When he walked into the bar to meet me for the first time, he looked just like me and my father. It blew my mind, furthering my fascination with mistaken identities from old theatrical comedies, like Comedy of Errors.”
Even the play’s privileged bride has her antecedents. “In Waco, I dated a lady from Highland Park, followed by a relationship with a Park Avenue princess,” shares Askins. “Those relations definitely helped fuel the narrative and color my perspective.”
Will Dan marry his debutante, or will she run away with the carpenter? Head to the Alley to find out.
Feb 2–12. Free. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave. 713-220-5700. Reserve a seat at alleytheatre.org.