By AML Publisher
Photography courtesy of Mark Garvin Photography
In EGGS, People’s Light and Theatre company’s rendition of the popular book by Jerry Spinelli, which is enjoying an extended run through Sunday May 31st, 9-year-old David and 13-year-old Primrose are both pretty unhappy with life at home. David is sent to live with his grandmother after the death of his mother, and Primrose’s mom is a fortuneteller who barely notices when Primrose moves into the van parked outside their house. Nathaniel Brastow plays the role of David. “He is very sad that his mother has died and confused. The reason he is so mean to his grandmother in EGGS is that he feels like he has to save this space in his heart for his mother and without that space, the hope of his mother coming back is gone,” explained Brastow.
Their unlikely friendship includes midnight trash picking and hanging out with Refrigerator John, the local refrigerator repairman. They set off on an unexpected journey that leads to self-discovery and new perspectives on friendship and family. Playwright Y York summed up the EGGS experience. “I think this is a play of complex characters and of life lessons on how fragile each person is as a human being. And, I don’t think you leave EGGS with all the answers. It’s one of those plays that will stick with you and keep offering a valuable experience after you walk out of the theater.”
Director Mark Lutwak, York’s husband and part of the dynamic pair that have translated Spinelli’s novel so captivatingly to the stage, explained EGGS is about the fragility of human relationships. “What is moving me most about the play is this theme of care and universally caring about people. This is the matrix that we base our lives and when you break that, when there is a rupture in someone’s life like David and the untimely death of his mother, it has a ripple effect. EGGS demonstrates what happens when the care relationships are reversed, what happens when someone else steps up and cares because no one else is. And that is the thematic terrain for me with this play.”
An underlying theme of the play, explained York, is that there are more important things in life than what you own. “The only thing of value on the stage is the human beings. And, even if there were nice things in (David’s grandmother) Margaret’s house it would not matter because of the state the house has fallen into. And there is no love between David and his grandmother. There is false hope between the two characters with David and Primrose. They have to relinquish the biggest hope of their lives in order to have real hope because the hope they are holding onto is not possible-David to bring his mother back and for Primrose it’s for her mother to tell her the photograph of her father is not really her father,” explained Y.
Claire Inie-Richards, 17 and a Kimberton resident, portrays the role of Primrose, and is appearing in her fifth production at People’s Light. “Primrose is a total tomboy who is struggling with her relationship with her mother. Half her battle is that she wants her mom to grow up and Primrose just wants to be a kid and she wants her mother to grow up and be the adult. And Primrose’s mother has fabricated this bizarre story that Clark Gable is her daughter’s father. And, so this picture of Clark Gable, this old black and white picture, is this ticking time bomb where Primrose and her mom have to come to grips with the reality. It makes for an interesting relationship throughout the play,” explained Inie-Richards.
Jerry Spinelli Goes One-on-One with AML Publisher Sarah Lockard as he discusses his inspiration for EGGS, childhood memories of Norristown and exciting details on his next two upcoming books.
AroundMainLine.com: Let’s start with where the premise for the book, EGGS, came from. It’s an interesting story of the complexities of human relationships—but, like we have discussed before with many of your literary inspiration, its roots lie in your childhood memories.
Jerry Spinelli: Yes, EGGS started simply from the annual Easter egg hunt as a child. I do remember it very clearly. All the kids in Norristown would line up along this windy road and there was this grassy hill that led into a forest of pine trees. After you ran down the bottom of the hill, there were eggs for the taking. The problem every Easter (for me) was that I’ve always been very indecisive, even as a young boy. So, I would end up standing there admiring the perfect pastel eggs, all looking very compelling, but unable to decide quickly which one I was going to grab first.
AML: Are you a Libra by any chance? Because I am and I’m very indecisive…
JS: Nope, Aquarius. So, I never did a good job of coming back with eggs because by the time I made up my mind, they were all scooped up!
AML: So you take that simple five second memory of an Easter egg hunt and it becomes a best-selling children’s book? How does that process really work? Because we all have those same memories but we are not translating them into gems of children’s lit.
JS: I guess the best way to explain it is that my imagination comes into play. I think back to how it was and the thought of as a young boy, moving further and further away from the hill and into the woods looking for more eggs. And, then as I am working through the concept of a book based around an annual childhood event, things come to mind. I came up with the idea that the young boy at the bottom of the hill moves further and further away from the hill and into the forest. And, he sees this pile of leaves and starts moving them around to look for eggs. And, instead, under the leaves he discovers a (dead) body of a pretty young girl in that forest, just a few feet from the pastel eggs everyone is scrambling to collect.
AML: So, if I can understand this–it starts with the great juxtaposition of something so horrible and dark on a day of new life and celebration and innocence?
JS: It’s a crude idea, I guess the contradiction appealed to me to begin with-and I take that and work on how I can define the premise into a full story. Of course, that’s only the first three pages and there are two hundred more to work with. That concept became a book called Who Cares, which I wrote fourteen years ago. It did not include the idea of a dead body, although to the main character she (the young girl) appears to be dead at the time. I sent it to my editor at the time and she had major problems with it. So, I started to work through fourteen typed-written pages from my editor on things she insisted I rework for Who Cares. That’s just a tremendous amount of edits-but I tried to be professional about it and conquered the first two pages…then let it sit for a month. I was getting so discouraged and I was really running out of stomach for it. So, I switched horses and started to go into a different direction with another book I had an idea with.
AML: So, you put Who Cares on the shelf and ran with another book?
JS: Yep, it started jiving after a week and before I knew it I had finished this book called Wringer–that same one you walked into this interview with.
[AML publisher Sarah Lockard brought a copy of Wringer, to the interview for Spinelli to autograph for a family friend. In 1998, Wringer was named a Newbery Honor book.]
AML: You are kidding, that’s so ironic. So, what happened to Who Cares?
JS: Fast forward about ten years after Wringer and my wife Eileen and I are traveling up to BEA [Book Expo America] in New York, the national convention, and Eileen asked me, ‘What ever happened with that book you were writing years ago that the editor did not like?’ And, neither of us, for the life of us, could remember what the name of it was. So, when we got back I looked all over for the manuscript and could not find it. Then, I found it in a pile of about 200 I had all the way at the bottom of a closet in my office. And, since Eileen is an author too, I gave it to her to read back over and she came back to me and said, ‘I really don’t understand what all the issues were that your former editor had with this book. I think it’s quite good.’
AML: And, so you ‘dusted off’ Who Cares and it became EGGS?
JS: In essence yes, we reworked it and that’s the story of EGGS. And the interesting thing is the cover does not have the name of the book on it, just the image. Just like Stargirl has the image of the young girl–those are my only two works where the name is not on the cover.
AML: And, so this stark symbolism of the egg carton is very interesting.
JS: Parenting is a huge issue in the book, with both David and Primrose being, to the extent, half orphans with one missing a father and the other a mother. And that’s where Refrigerator John steps in to foster both of these children because they have this fragility, much like an egg.
AML: What I have deduced from your books and your career is that you always have drawn from your childhood, from your memories in Norristown. Those seem to shape your characters and stories.
JS: I’ve given workshops at writers’ conferences called ‘Mining Your Memory.’ We all have these shared life experiences-but we have all interacted with the world in our own individual way.
AML: What is your next book that the millions of Jerry Spinelli fans across the country, across the world, can look forward to?
JS: Hokey Pokey.
AML: Ok, that is the name of the book? So, I’ll take the ‘scoop’ …
JS: Yes, When I was a young boy in the ’50s there was this man in Norristown called the Hokey Pokey man. This predates what we now call water ice. He was from Italy and he would push this white cart with two handles and big wooden wheels up and down the streets of Norristown. He had this huge block of ice that he would scrape with a big metal scraper, dump it out into a paper cone and drizzle with one of his container of syrupy flavors. He had it down pat and he knew what time the kids were getting out of what schools, and there he would be.
So, the Hokey Pokey man became absolutely iconic in Norristown. If you go to Norristown now and ask people who have lived there all their lives, their eyes will glaze over. At the time he was just part of the scene, you did not give him much thought. But, forty, fifty years later there is a treasured memory and a signature memory that represented that time and place in a way few other things could. And now that is gone forever, along with the Hokey Pokey man himself.
JS: Yes, forever and ever. There will never ever be another Hokey Pokey Man.
AML: So, it’s called Hokey Pokey…
JS: Yes and a man with a cart will make an appearance. It’s not finished, working on it with Harper Collins.
AML: And that’s your next book?
JS: That is the next work of fiction; I have a book coming out with Eileen this fall. It’s our first collaboration together. It’s called Today I Will.
AML: Cool, what is the premise?
JS: It’s a book of inspirational thoughts, every day there is a little note to read to treasure and inspire someone.
AML: That’s great. I so needed that by my bedside this morning. It’s sometimes just those one or two sentences that can lift you, an affirmation…or motivate someone or point an individual in the right direction. I so believe in the power of positive and intentional, goal-oriented thinking. It has a way of creating its own results, successes.
JS: I’m very much looking forward to it. It was Eileen’s idea and I guess to round this out, if I hadn’t listened to my wife that one morning on the way to New York we wouldn’t be here talking about EGGS, there would be no EGGS. Eighty-percent of my ideas come from Eileen.
AML: That’s a nice way to end this interview. I’m sure your fans across the Philadelphia region and the country will very much enjoy reading this, especially the children. And, as always, I feel so fortunate to have this time to learn more about your work and get to know you better. It’s very generous of you and a distinct pleasure, thank you!
JS: You are most welcome.
WHAT: EGGS by Y York, based on the novel by Jerry Spinelli
WHEN: April 23 – May 31, 2009 on the Steinbright Stage
Because of the success of the play, EGGS has been extended a week from its original schedule.
WHERE: People’s Light & Theatre Company 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355
PRICES: Adult tickets are $29 and youth tickets are $20, with special discounts available for groups of 10 or more.
GROUPS: Meal and ticket packages available for groups of 10 or more at Places! Bistro, our on-site restaurant. Call Adria Charles for more information at 610.647.1900, ext. 134 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT: For tickets or information call the Box Office at 610.644.3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org