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When Triangle actress, director, and dramatist Candice Churilla penned her first play, a saucy new comedy entitled Sex, Drugs, & Dinner, she had a certain leading lady in mind: herself. And a certain director: also herself. Sex, Drugs, & Dinner will also mark Churilla's directorial debut.
No shrinking violet and never lacking in self-confidence, Churilla will tackle these highly demanding dual roles in Loveseat Theater's peripatetic shoestring presentation of Sex, Drugs, & Dinner, which will play Ringside in Durham, NC, July 23-24 and 30-31 and The Skylight Exchange in Chapel Hill, NC, Aug. 13-14. In addition to Churilla, the show's cast will include David Berberian, Tim Cole, J. Evarts, Mark Jeffrey Miller, Eric Morales, Steven Warnock, and Deborah Winstead.
Churilla describes Sex, Drugs, & Dinner as "a black comedy about a white woman." Churilla quips, "Observe the epic journey of Mandy Chinchilla, a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking drug addict with pretty hair, from her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the wilds of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Every once in a while, a play reminds us of the magic of theater and provokes us to examine our souls. But who has time for that?"
(Mandy's checkered history roughly parallels Candice's resume, which records that Churilla is a native Pennsylvanian who earned her degree at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and moved to the Triangle in 1998. Last summer, Churilla co-starred with Julian "J" Chachula in Loveseat Theater's inaugural production of You're No One's Nothing Special, written by Ann Marie Healy, directed by Loveseat artistic director Katja Hill, and co-produced with Chapel Hill-based Wordshed Productions.)
"I inspired myself to write this play," Churilla cracks. "I love a good story, and I used to tell my friend and coworker Kathi my crazy stories on our lunch hour. Kathi told me I should do stand-up comedy and I cringed. I hate stand-up. I like to wear high heels, so my feet hurt if I stand for more than five minutes.
"So," Churilla says, "I looked into playwriting and was pleased to learn that I could sit down while I'm writing a play! Not only can I sit while I'm writing, but I can drink. I can't drink at my day job."
How long has she been working on Sex, Drugs, & Dinner? "Forever," she sighs. "It took me way too long to write Sex, Drugs, & Dinner. I'm not a disciplined writer at all, although I do enjoy discipline (wink, wink)."
Churilla says, "I started writing it in 2001 and finished it this summer. I have a busy schedule (courtroom appearances, cleaning vomit out of my carpets, etc.), so life often gets in the way of my writing."
She adds that the part of the play's subject matter that most appealed to her was "Definitely the sex. No, the drugs. No, strike that. Dinner. Okay, the sex."
Candice Churilla says a series of rewrites have substantially improved Sex, Drugs, & Dinner. "Writing is rewriting," she claims. "Everything has changed. The concept, the plot, the characters. Everything. The reasons I had for writing this play changed. The characters took on lives of their own, and they changed the plot. I had no control over what I typed!"
Churilla says, "Mandy is a drop-dead-gorgeous 21-year-old college student who hates her life. Her only escapes from the hellish former mining town, Scranton, are sex, drugs, and dinner. One night at a keg party, she meets an older man who is different from the rest. He actually listens to her. She explores this odd new relationship which leads to her misadventures with a host of other wacky characters, including her oblivious parents, a Southern belle, an accountant, a flamboyant gym owner, and a personal trainer with a Superman complex. This coming-of-age story spans five years of Mandy's life."
Staging Sex, Drugs, & Dinner at two different venues in two Triangle cities presents considerable creative challenges to director Candice Churilla, who designed the show's set and sound and co-designed its costumes, and her production team, which includes lighting designer Stefan McMorris-Santoro and co-costume designer Deborah Winstead.
Churilla says the set is "Very simple. A couch, coffee table, table, two chairs. This is pretty much black-box theater," she explains. As for how the show's lighting instruments are employed, Churilla says, "When they're on, they're bright. When they're off, it gets dark."
In a word, Churilla says, the show's costumes are "sexy." She adds that the costumes feature "lots of animal print, flamboyance, suits, [and] biker T-shirts."
Candice Churilla also warns, "There will be smoking during the performance. If smoke bothers you, do not sit in the front rows. Also, I perform all my own stunts; and I drink real vodka on stage."
Loveseat Theater presents Sex, Drugs, & Dinner Friday-Saturday, July 23-24 and 30-31, at 8 p.m. at Ringside, 308 West Main St., Durham, NC; and Friday-Saturday, Aug. 13-14, at 8 p.m. at The Skylight Exchange, 405½ Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, NC. $10. 919/368-5896 or firstname.lastname@example.org.