"If you're managing to be joyful and awkward at the same time, you're having a good day."
Tom Wells says this wise thing in his rich East Yorkshire accent over a scratchy transatlantic phone connection from his flat in the town of Hull, England, and I know what he means. We're talking about misfits, outsiders, and dancing, which, after all, involves being joyful and vulnerable at the same time.
Wells' play Broken Biscuits breaks out in its American premiere at 1812 Theatre Company at Plays & Players Theatre, Oct. 8-24. The title is named for the boxes of broken cookies on shelves all over England. And the play concerns a group of misfit pals who decide to start a rock band.
"What I really like doing," Wells says, "is writing about a group of people coming together who haven't found their group yet, and creating a family, a gang." (Wells previously wrote Folk, about a surrogate family of three who start a trad-folk group.) "A band is really a way of doing that, in the same way a sports team is, or a choir, anything where you make a group. In Broken Biscuits, they're friends by default of being outsiders, sort of sticking together a little bit." When I chuckle, Wells says: "You're laughing, but that's my life! There's plenty of us around! Lots of peple feel like outsiders, so meeting your gang is a really special thing."
The tunes are written by Matthew Robins, with whom Wells also wrote Drip, which Wells describes as "a one-man rock musical." So are these plays examples of "gig theatre," the rising genre of plays that use popular music in the storytelling art? We have Once, now at the Arden Theatre. We have Such Things As Vampires at People's Light. When I was at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer, gig theater was everywhere, ranging from an Eva Cassidy retrospective to What Girls Are Made Of, a full-band autobiography by Cora Bissett, lead singer for the 1990s band Darlingheart. Pussy Riot was also around, as was Drip.
"I do have a thing about bands, Wells allows. "I just really like having music on stage. It's really a lovely way to lift a play a little bit to something, I don't know, more. You can be a bit more joyful. You can see people moving to it, dancing. When you see characters dance, that can be quite revealing: You make yourself a bit vulnerable, I guess, but it can be, hopefully, joyful."