The world premiere of “The Gentleman Caller,” written by Loyola alumnus Philip Dawkins, is set to premiere April 6 at the Raven Theatre (6157 N. Clark St.).
“The Gentleman Caller” tells the true story of two mid-20th century playwrights, Tennessee Williams (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) and William Inge (“Where’s Daddy?”). Williams and Inge both experienced successes and failures while trying to establish their careers as gay artists in their heteronormative society.
The PHOENIX sat down with Dawkins to discuss his career as a playwright and the premiere of “The Gentleman Caller.”
Dawkins said the men’s story seems like “both a warning and encouragement,” as writing was everything to them. This was especially true for Inge, who equated his self-worth to his writing success, according to Dawkins. After a steady decline in popularity, Inge fell into depression. “A Gentleman Caller” focuses on how Inge and Williams coped with their struggles.
Dawkins said he recognizes he lives in a different era, and in modern society, he has more freedoms.
“I have the privilege to be able to be out, of having a family, of having a job openly and being who I am,” Dawkins said. “Those are privileges that weren’t afforded to [Inge]. One of the ways I look at this play is that I’m going to activate my privilege by being joyful in ways outside the theater. And I think I owe it to him and I owe it to all of the playwrights and people before us who didn’t have that privilege.”
Dawkins grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and began acting around the age of nine. After several years in his hometown, he soon wanted to break from “the desert” and considered attending college in Chicago.
To Dawkins, Chicago was “a beautiful, positive opposite” to his warm hometown. After looking at several schools, he decided Loyola was where he wanted to study theater.
“I really liked [the school’s] commitment to service and using the tools that you learn immediately and putting them into the community,” Dawkins said. “[You] don’t just sit on them and let them be for you.”
While attending Loyola, Dawkins said he realized instead of juggling a career in acting and playwriting, he wanted to focus solely on the latter.
“In college I really figured out, ‘Oh, this playwriting thing is going to require more energy from me. It’s a lot harder for me, than acting. So I really want to dedicate all my time to it,’” Dawkins said.
After graduating from Loyola in 2002, Dawkins wrote several other plays, including “Charm,” “Failure: A Love Story” and “Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Side of Effect of Living.”
As a playwright, Dawkins has won several awards for his work. Dawkins won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work twice for “Miss Marx: or The Involuntary Side Effect of Living” in 2014 and “Charm” in 2016. Dawkins also won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Solo Performance for his play, “The Happiest Place on Earth” in 2017. Despite his success, Dawkins said the most valuable thing in his life isn’t his career.
“Loyola positioned me to remember we’re always a part of a community,” he said. “A community is the most valuable thing you have. Not your career, not your work.”
Dawkins said during the same era as Williams and Inge, playwright Lillian Hellman faced similar struggles. Hellman had a reputation for having a negative attitude, according to Dawkins. Writing in a job dominated by men, she was seen as “vain” and “imperiously cranky,” according to an article by The New York Times, and Hellman wasn’t surrounded by female colleagues who would have supported her.
“We owe it to [people like Williams, Inge and Hellman] to think, ‘I live in a different time, so I am going to create more opportunities to make this world more inclusive’ because we can,” Dawkins said. “We owe it to the people who couldn’t.”
Dawkins said this thread of empathy is common in many of his plays, such as “Reykjavik,” “Le Switch” and “The Burn.”
Dawkins wants the audience to see his characters and think “‘Oh, I have nothing in common with that person’” and later realize, “‘Oh we’re both human. We have quite a bit in common.'”
Dawkins said it’s important to look out for people in your community and take their hands.
“If someone’s falling down, you’re pulling them up,” he said. “That’s the only way anyone is going to get anywhere.”
“The Gentleman Caller” will run April 6 through May 13. Tickets can be purchased at www.raventheatre.com or by calling 773-338-2177.