“She was my first true love,” sighs playwright David Templeton, deeply blushing, appropriately, bright pink.
Templeton’s new play, Pinky, which opens this week, tells the tale of young, Renaissance-obsessed David’s not-quite-unrequited love for Pinky, and the extravagant lengths that his seven-league boots must travel to win her heart. Enlisting a band of merry friends, the lovestruck David concocts elaborate plots to catch—and keep—Pinky’s attention.
Bohemian readers know Templeton from these very pages, in which he reviews weekly local stage productions. Some will even recall his debut one-man show, Wretch Like Me, a meditation on his teenage days as a born-again Christian. Pinky premieres at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West Theater this week, directed by Sheri Lee Miller and co-starring Templeton, as himself, with Liz Jahren as Pinky.
The fictionalized but essentially true script finds 15-year-old David catching sight of Pinky for the first time. (“Bathed in a pink light as she entered the room,” Templeton recalls fondly. “It was love at first sight.”) A year younger, but every bit the adventurous romantic, Pinky appreciates and is flattered by the attention but isn’t quite sure that David measures up to her ideal Prince Charming. She formulates a list of 10 attributes that “P.C.,” as she affectionately calls her prince, must possess, and David, rating only a seven, tries to achieve the required perfect score.
To accomplish this, he masterminds treasure hunts, kidnappings, swordfights and other dastardly deeds that his posse of pals enact in full costume and makeup, portraying Pinky as the damsel in distress and David as the rescuing knight in shining armor. Fairy tales, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and Dungeons & Dragons weigh as heavy as King Arthur’s sword Excalibur in their role-playing. Orcs, elves and dwarves deliver poems written in Elvish, riddled clues to hidden treasure and roses to Pinky, courtesy of her wannabe prince. Young David, who more often identifies with the tragic, second-string characters like trolls, woodsmen, frogs or beasts, also commissions a real—albeit dorky—P.C. suit, complete with tights, to prove he is the prince inside that Princess Pinky seeks.
“When I tell people about this, I can see by the looks in their faces that they’re both surprised and delighted and disbelieving that I would go to such lengths,” says Templeton, smiling. “It makes everybody think of their own first loves, and I just knew that this was a special story that needed to be told.”
As the narrative swings back and forth in time, with the actors portraying both young and older versions of Pinky and David, the play begs an unavoidable question of motivation. Why is a 50-year-old, happily married man not only writing about his first love but also spending years’ worth of time and once again involving the company of others to relive his teen years, something so many of us are eager to leave behind? And what would the real Pinky think about someone with whom she’s only had a thimbleful of contact since she was 19?
“It’s got to be a weird thing,” admits Templeton. “I don’t know what would happen if somebody called me up and said, ‘Yeah, we haven’t really seen each other in 30 years, but remember that time we did this thing? Well, I just wrote a play about it, and it’s called David and here’s the script.'”
The tall, blue-eyed (both required physical attributes on Pinky’s P.C. list) Templeton speaks from his office in Santa Rosa, neatly dressed in black and white. “It’s interesting to take something based on reality and turn it into a piece of fiction, because the fiction starts to seem in some ways realer,” says Templeton. “Now if you say ‘Pinky’ to me, I see Liz Jahren, I don’t see the 14-year-old girl I fell in love with.”
“I think of it fondly as a very sweet time,” says the real-life Pinky by phone, driving home from her job at Disneyland in Southern California. “David’s always been a fabulous writer, very expressive, very detailed and very whimsical. I think he’s probably transformed it into a very touching story, and the fact that we had some reality on which it was based is a nice connection.”
In a decade remembered as much for its disco music, hot-tub sex and bong jokes so aptly portrayed on That ’70s Show, Pinky’s backstory conversely reads as pure as the driven snow of Caradhras. Pinky describes her peers as good, moral, happy teenagers with lots of energy and few obligations, a far cry from today’s overloaded—pun intended—teens. “My mom didn’t have to worry,” says Pinky. “We had a commonality which was the fantasy and the role-playing, and we had a lot of fun. But I didn’t recognize the romantic aspects of it.”
Jahren, a seasoned stage veteran, has starred as Mae West in Dirty Blonde and as the die-hard fan of the country legend in the long-running Always, Patsy Cline. “She’s a chameleon,” Templeton raves. “Liz as Pinky is so amazing and sweet and hilarious. She’s got the comedy of the character, and has turned her into an icon of girlish fantasies and wisdom.”
Both actors also play the eight other characters in the two-hour play, inflecting them with distinctive voices and body language to clearly identify them to the audience. “Part of our director Sheri Lee Miller’s brilliance is recognizing that David is very verbal, so he is very still. Pinky is action-oriented, so she’s all over the stage acting everything out.”
The real-life Pinky did eventually realize romance when, following her motto “true love is worth waiting for,” she met and married her real-life husband, sans the blue eyes. And though she’s kept her Lady Galadriel outfit, Pinky has yet to share the story with her husband of 30 years.
Templeton, however, says his wife is charmed by it. “The part of me that’ll always be 15 or 16 will always love my memories of Pinky at that time,” he continues. “But now that I’m 50 and I have my life, and that was so long ago, there is no pining for something that might’ve been. I’m happy to have this memory from my childhood that I look back on fondly and now have turned into something that can hopefully touch and inspire and please other people.”