Playwright John Binkleys latest work wins international praise

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - At age 22, Binkley experienced his first small-screen success with the play, 'No Man's Child.'The Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal may have resulted in the politican’s disappearance from the public sphere, but it has provided a generation with food for thought concerning class, power and race.

Playwright and Lake Oswego resident John Binkley is one such person who was inspired by the Frenchman’s alleged transgression. The incident, which involved the alleged 2011 rape of a New York City hotel maid by Strauss-Kahn, then head of the International Monetary Fund, provided Binkley with a creative backdrop for his latest play.

“I really wanted to write something because I felt there was an abuse of power. I was concerned but I couldn’t find the vehicle to have it in a play, to get the right story that would command the attention of the audience,” said Binkley. “All of a sudden, the DSK story hit the news. ... I’m sitting there and thinking, ‘God, I want to know what’s happening behind the scenes. What’s going on, what’s the power play behind the scenes to protect this Frenchman and this woman who was allegedly raped?” Binkley said.

While last year’s events prompted Binkley to write his latest play, entitled “Presidential Suite: a Modern Fairy Tale,” Binkley is far from a newcomer to the stage. His creative career began at age 19, when he took a year off from schooling at Stanford University to write a novel about the passing of his father two years earlier. Though that work was never published, Binkley continued writing.

At age 22, Binkley experienced his first small-screen success. While still at Stanford, he wrote and produced a play that premiered on campus and was later picked up by a local television station and broadcast in primetime across the United States. The play, called “No Man’s Child,” is the work Binkley credits with first getting him into the entertainment industry.

Though he discovered at a relatively young age that the arts were his calling, Binkley knew it couldn’t be his primary source of employment right out of college.

“The short version is I discovered the way I wanted to do it, and the industry wasn’t ready to compensate me. So, I went into other things. I ran a couple nonprofits, and I got into the wine wholesale business out of Houston and I did that for about 10 years,” he explained.

In Houston, Binkley continued his writing, which culminated in a pilot children’s television show. The show was picked up in England, where it received high broadcast ratings, mostly because adults were watching with their children.

The premise of the show, a far cry from Binkley’s recent work, centered on how children saw the world. All of the actors were children, who portrayed through an improvised script both their own roles as well as those of the “adults” in the cast.

When the show came back to the United States, it was picked up by PBS and run under the title “The Perkins Family.” Although Disney expressed interest in adapting the show for the Disney channel, and the concept tested well with the audience, executives eventually shut down the idea, which resulted in a later contract with Nickelodeon in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The show Nickelodeon ran was called “Fifteen” and was essentially the teenage version of the earlier English version. It was then picked up by the Canadian partner in 1991 and ran until 1994.

“It was called ‘No Adults Allowed.’ The whole point was to try to get a child’s eye view of the world,” said Binkley. “They (the actors) were 8 to 14 years old, but they played both generations.”

Though his experience on the small screen is nothing to scoff at, Binkley explained his departure from television as the recognition that, because the target audience for primetime networks is younger, the writers and producers should be young.

“It’s something young people should control, because the prime audience is between 18 and 34,” Binkley said.

After leaving television, Binkley segued into writing for the live stage. Before writing “Presidential Suite,” he wrote three other plays, one of which was featured in Vancouver. “Presidential Suite” is Binkley’s latest work, and the one play out of the bunch “that’s definitely demonstrated some legs, so to speak,” he said.

While the play is inspired by the events surrounding the Strauss-Kahn case, Binkley finished the play before the case actually closed.

“I wrote and it was finished before the guy even got off. So, in the real story, it had not even played itself out,” he said.

The charges against Strauss-Kahn were dismissed at the request of the prosecution, which noted serious doubts in the maid’s credibility.

After he finished writing, Binkley headed to France to see how his work would be accepted on its home turf.

“I decided that I wanted to do a reading of it in Paris first. These are readings with playwrights and actors and directors, so it’s not your average audience,” said Binkley, adding: “The audience started reacting right on.”

“So, it was based on this very positive reaction in Paris that we decided to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. We were invited to play in a venue to produce it,” he said.

When it came time to perform at the festival, Binkley was happily shocked by the success of his first major foray onto the live stage.

“It was received, in my opinion, very, very well. I didn’t expect to get 29 reviewers, producers, theater owners, people from the national theater of Scotland, from the Scottish Conservatory, directors, artistic directors, those types who came. We had a lot of attention and good audiences,” he said.

For Binkley and his team, the biggest thing to come out of the festival was the positive response of reviewers.

“We had about five or six four-star reviews; we were just stunned. I expected to have two or three reviewers if we were lucky. We were thrilled. I would have been thrilled without this,” he said.

Coming off of such a huge success, Binkley’s next step with “Presidential Suite” is to find a theater interested in pursuing the project. Because of the positive reaction of the press to the play’s showing at the festival, possible venues include theaters in Geneva, France, Berlin, New York and London.

“Producers rarely get it their way, but what I’d like to do and what should be done is to show it in Paris. ... It could be also possibly (performed in) Berlin, because it’s very important in the theater,” said Binkley. “The challenge now is to determine who of the interested parties is the best partner to carry this forward.”

Given all of the opportunities in front of him, Binkley is optimistic about his play’s future.

“I like to believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and that something good will come out of all of this interest,” he said.

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