Saving Grace

Sonoma County playwright, longtime theater critic and Bohemian contributor David Templeton was a self-described obsessive born-again kid growing up in 1970s Southern California, where he became immersed in the Jesus Movement.

“When I learned ‘Amazing Grace,’ I loved it so much that I literally learned it forwards and backwards,” says Templeton.

That song and Templeton’s childhood experiences of being saved from an overzealous religious community became the inspiration for his autobiographical one-man show, Wretch Like Me, which he performed for the first time 10 years ago, on July 17, 2009, at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa.

Now, a decade later, Templeton revisits the show, giving a 10-year anniversary performance of Wretch Like Me on Saturday, July 20, where it all began, at the Glaser Center.

But, back to “Amazing Grace.”

“Amongst other things, the teenage evangelicals that I associated with and I were very enthused with the idea of ‘Amazing Grace,’” Templeton says. “But the tune sounded so churchy that we were always looking for hip, alternative tunes. So, we would sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to everything from ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper,’ to ‘Jingle Bells.’ All of that is in the show, and I demonstrate what ‘Amazing Grace’ sounds like sung backwards.”

In addition to singing demonstrations, Templeton’s show hits on everything from fundamentalism to puppeteering to sheep. It’s a story he wanted to tell since the ‘80s, but which he only wrote 11 years ago, after two friends gave him a firm deadline of six weeks to produce a draft of the play.

Originally directed by David Yen, Wretch Like Me ran for a full two and a half hours when it debuted. Five years ago, Templeton took the play to the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, cutting the work into a lean 75-minute monologue for the festival.

“I completely rewrote it so that I could do it in a quick one-act,” Templeton says. Sheri Lee Miller directed that shorter version and joined Templeton in Scotland for the three-week run of the show.

That 75-minute version, with some minor adjustments, is the one that Templeton will perform on July 20. He says it’s likely his last time onstage with “Wretch Like Me.” The performance will also include a post-show discussion with Templeton, Miller and others who’ve been involved in the show.

“For this [performance], I’m trying to have as much fun with it as I can,” Templeton says. “It’s quite a thing to memorize 33 pages of text just for one performance, but it’s got to be good for my brain. Mostly I’m trying to remember to leave it all on the stage.”

‘Wretch Like Me’ runs Saturday, July 20, at Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 7pm. $25. 707.568.5381.

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