ACT laughs along with 'Larry's Best Friend'

Dave Hill was a young man trying to find his voice as a writer in 1965 when he took a seminar with "The Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling.

"He persuaded me to stop trying to write the Great American Novel and write scripts," Hill says.

Nearly a half-century later, Hill's first full-length comedy, "Larry's Best Friend," will be presented by Ashland Contemporary Theatre at the Bellview Grange in Ashland, directed by Evalyn Hansen.

The new romantic comedy is about a man whose dog is magically changed into a beautiful woman. "She does woman things," Hill says. "Getting a job. Falling in love. And he goes downhill rapidly."

A subplot involves characters including a shaman who is instrumental in the dog becoming human and the ex-girlfriend of the dog's owner.

Larry is played by Douglas Young. The Dog, Ginger, is played by Emma Wilkenson. McAlister, a shaman having a mid-life crisis, is acted by John Litton. Rachel, the ex-girlfriend, is played by Ruby Henrie, and Alexei Menedes plays the part of Doug, Ginger's boyfriend.

In between getting advice from Serling and writing his first full-length comedy, Hill worked as a computer scientist at the Kennedy Space Center, raised a family and retired. He founded a playwrights group in Florida and had eight plays produced. One, "There Must Be Unicorns," a one-act, had a reading in Ashland some months back.

"When I retired, I went back to writing plays," he says.

He moved to Ashland in 2006, where he volunteered as a reader for the Ashland New Plays Festival, reading scripts from all around the country.

"The ones I liked were the comedies," he says. "I thought, 'Why don't I write plays like the ones I like?' "

And so he did, aided in part by his membership in the Ashland Playwrights Project, a group of 15 or so aspiring dramatists who meet twice a month at the Ashland library (for details, call 541-844-8476.)

Hill says comedy is more difficult to write than straight drama.

"Drama, you can tell when it comes off the pen, but comedy isn't comedy until somebody laughs," he says.

But he adds, "You can get in as many observations about the human condition in comedy as you can in drama."

In "Larry's Best Friend" he tried to compare the relationships between men and women with the relationships people have with their pets.

"Using the dog as a metaphor for the way some men treat women, I was able to get a lot of that in," he says.

Then there's the question of larger meanings.

"If you start to say something overtly religious these days, people shut off their minds," he says. "But if you sneak it in by analogy you can get it in."

So are there spiritual themes in "Larry's Best Friend?"

"It may be the kiss of death," Hill says, "but yeah. The dog treated its master as if it were God, and now has a completely different relationship with him."

In defiance of the old saw about working on the stage with animals or kids, there will be live dogs on the stage in the play, Hill says. "I'm sleepwalking on the tightrope," he says with a laugh.

The Friends of the Animal Shelter, a local nonprofit, is a sponsor of the show, and the Oct. 2 performance will be a benefit.

Hill says ACT intends to stay the course after its last play, "Illyria," did not do well at the box office. The play was a musical comedy version of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

"It was a little ambitious," Hill says. "It cost us a lot."

He says it looks as if the community theater group will stick more to the Grange location, where it's made some improvements to the stage. "Larry's Best Friend" will be presented in the "semi-round," he says.

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