As a newcomer to Richmond six years ago, Elliot Wegman was bored.
Having moved here after college, the Long Island native was searching for a community to call his own when he attended his first show at the Coalition Theater on Broad Street. Immediately, he knew he wanted to get involved with the nonprofit comedy theater.
“I saw all the [theater’s] founders onstage at a ‘Middle Management’ show and I just thought to myself, ‘I want to be friends with these people,’” he recalls, naming an improv show that features Coalition’s trio of directors and co-founders.
Soon, Wegman was taking classes, volunteering and appearing in shows at the theater, and successfully auditioned to become a part of the company in 2016. Now, he aims to tackle a first for the theater with “Unbecoming,” Coalition’s first scripted play.
“From doing improv and some sketch and various comedic projects at Coalition over the years, I guess I was just looking for what’s next,” explains the 29-year-old playwright. “I wanted to push myself into doing something else.”
That something else revolves around Victoria, a woman taking care of her mother-in-law as her husband runs for re-election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Through the course of the show, we see Victoria’s mother-in-law — who has dementia — win the lottery, Victoria lament her one-time success as a pop singer, then pursue a career as a professional wrestler under the name Vicky Diamonds.
Partially inspired by an acquaintance saying that he was leaving the “dark ages” of Richmond for the “utopia” of Vermont, Wegman says he wanted to skewer notions of enlightenment in a broader sense.
“The whole play is about liberals behaving badly. … In this era of virtue signaling and lots of liberals thinking they’re on the right side of history,” Wegman says. “There’s no special thing about them that makes them nicer than anybody, let alone some sort of conservative counterpart that they think is bad, or vice versa.”
Featuring a wide range of characters and perspectives, Wegman says the show should appeal to all.
“There’s something for everyone,” he says. “If you’re a fan of dysfunctional family comedies, I sort of had ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and ‘Arrested Development’ in mind when I wrote this.”
Playing Victoria in the show, local performer Catherine Kennedy says “Unbecoming” is a wild ride for the audience.
“It’s a crazy whirlwind. Very fast paced, lots of action. It’s like a family drama with choreographed fight scenes,” says Kennedy, who began taking classes at Coalition four years ago. “You’re sitting in the living room with this family and just watching them tear each other apart.”
As for her character, she says Victoria is engaging, if volatile.
“She’s an exciting character. She’s a little explosive. She’s always going to be the center of attention, even if it’s in a negative way,” Kennedy says. “You’ll love her in moments and hate her in moments. She’s a fairly selfish person but spends [much] of her daily life helping her mother-in-law and helping her daughter.”
Katie Holcomb, co-founder of Coalition and its artistic director, says she’s thrilled to provide a platform for Wegman, and she hopes the theater will attract similar projects in the future. Lauding Wegman as “a phenomenally intelligent, funny and congenial person,” she says she’s pleased that the theater’s first scripted work is the product of one of its performers.
“We’re so excited about it,” Holcomb says. “It’s something we definitely like to see.”
In staging his play, Wegman hopes to bring theatergoers from some of Richmond’s more traditional venues into Coalition.
“We’ve got our fans and our sort of demographic, and it’s very different from the people that are going to the Basement and Virginia Rep,” Wegman says. “That’s always felt strange to me. In a small way, part of my inspiration for doing this is to bridge that gap.”
“Unbecoming” runs Nov. 30-Dec. 6 at the Coalition Theater, 8 W. Broad St. For information visit rvacomedy.com.