Playwright David Moats doesn’t remember the name of the World War I documentary that inspired his play "An Afternoon in France," but he does remember the simple image from it that caught his eye: a young American soldier watching a train go by. It made Moats think of his grandfather.
The playwright’s grandfather didn’t fight in World War I — his father served in the next Great War — but Moats was taken by the mysterious, fleeting image of a man from another era. “When you start thinking about your grandparents, you realize there’s a lot you don’t know,” he says. He began to build a story around discovery and family secrets.
Moats, a Rutland Herald editor who won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials in support of civil unions in 2001, finished the play 12 years ago, but it has never been produced — until now. The Middlebury Community Players, who have put on four of Moats’ plays since 1994, are holding auditions next week for the premiere production in February. Moats will direct.
“For all these years, I’ve had sort of a parallel writing life, on my own, privately,” he says. “I wrote these plays in the mornings or in the evenings over the years.” This one was never produced because Moats “got involved with other things,” he says. But he never wanted to let it go.
"An Afternoon in France" spans four generations of “yearning, love and betrayal,” and it all unfolds on a family vacation. Middle-aged economics professor Michael Branch takes his family to visit his father’s cabin in Lake Tahoe. When he asks his dad, Frank, about a small strip of newsreel showing Branch’s grandfather in France, it unlocks stories from the family’s past. Moats structures the tale as a dreamlike saga that weaves in and out of eras and locations. And, “Everybody’s going through something,” says Moats.
But don’t expect a dark drama. The play’s heavy themes are balanced with comedic moments, he explains. “They’re all good people,” Moats says. “They’re just trying to do the best they can.”
Auditions are at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, Tuesday and Wednesday, November 29 and 30, at 7 p.m. There are parts for 14 actors, ages 9 to 85. Info, 388-1436. middleburycommunityplayers.org