Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lou Diamond Phillips Talks About His Burning Desire at Seven Angels

Lou Diamond Phillips at Seven Angels. Photo: Lauren Yarger
By Lauren Yarger
If there is balance to the universe, why shouldn’t the devil have dominion over love? What would happen if Lucifer were cupid?

These questions in the mind of film and stage star Lou Diamond Phillips (“La Bamba,” “Stand and Deliver,” “The 33” and The King and I) morphed into the play Burning Desire, where the devil causes a modern-day Adam and Eve to fall in love, then has fun messing things up to see whether they are willing to sell their souls to keep from losing at love.

Phillips will star in the world premiere Feb. 18-March 13 at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT. Could there be a more divine place than a theater which regularly sports heavenly/nun décor (thanks to Artistic Director Semina DeLaurentis’s association with Nunsense) and its Devil’s Corner Bar?  

The concept of Satan as a character on stage isn’t new. After all he’s been a regular in Dr. Faustus, Damn Yankees and more, but the challenge was to cast him in a comedy with philosophy, Philips said.

Make no mistake, Phillips has succeeded in that challenge. The two-act play I read in advance of the run  -- it was still being tweaked for production with a couple of minions for Lucifer and a choreography being added -- is very well written and contains deep layers of thought and biblical insight as well as a humor-filled plot. (Bravo! Too many plays with religious ties are sinful in their use of stereotype and propaganda).

The humor part was important to Phillips. He wanted to be in a comedy and since Hollywood mostly casts him as “the brooding ethnic,” he figured the fastest way to be in one would be to write one himself. His family tree includes Filipino, Cherokee and other Asian and European roots; the roles of doomed Richie Valens in “La Bamba,” gangster Angel Guzman in “Stand and Deliver” trapped miner Don Lucho in “The 33” and Henry Standing Bear in “Longmire” certainly attest to the brooding label….

The stage, perhaps, has been a little more welcoming. Phillips has played more than 600 performances as the King in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I in the US and around the world. He received a 1996 Tony Award nomination for the role in his Broadway debut).  In fact, Burning Desire was completed during that run as Phillips commuted on the Long Island Rail Road for performances.

It began years ago when he wrote the opening monologue following a particularly bad breakup. He had put it, and his first love of writing, on a back burner while his film career took off (though he accumulated some screenwriting credits).  With The King and I stimulating his creative juices, the ending for Burning Desire  “just descended on me.”  

The play received some readings and Richard Zavaglia (who directs the show at Seven Angels) expressed an interest. He and Phillips reconnected on some professional projects over the years and each time Zavaglia asked about the play. It led to a reading at St. Malachy’s church in New York and eventually to its world premiere at Seven Angels in a time slot that “divinely” fits into Phillips schedule between press appearances for the recently released “The 33” and filming for his TV series “Longmire” which begins shooting season 5 for Netfix in March.

Phillips had a lot to say on the religious subjects in Burning Desire and felt the desired comedy format and entertaining the audience would be the best way to get the message across.

“If you lecture people, they tune out.”

Phillips has done a lot of exploration when it comes to religion: his Filipino background made him comfortable in Catholic churches, he was a devout Southern Baptist as a teen in Texas, he has embraced religions of his Native American heritage and he also has “dabbled” in the Jewish religion followed by many friends.

So with all of that grounding, has he landed somewhere in particular on the religious spectrum?

“Not in an organized way,” he is quick to respond.

“I have faith. I believe in something greater. I believe in the morality in the play. . . I pray every day. I believe that there has to be hope at the end.”

Getting people to think about why they believe what they do is the goal, he said.

“It’s all about choices,” he says. “That is the journey that gets us to faith.”

He hopes he has given his four daughters a foundation for faith, but says he will be OK with whatever choices they make as they find their own way “to that greater power.”
He is hoping in particular that young people will enjoy the play at Seven Angels. After all, dating truths are the same regardless of which generation is experiencing them.

Burning Desire runs Feb. 18-March 13 at Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank road, Waterbury. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm with some matinee performances at 2 pm (check box office for exact schedule). Tickets range from $38 to $57: 203-757-4676;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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