It’s rare to go from a foreign correspondent to a playwright and author. But Al Pessin did it.
His prize-winning comedy will premiere at Boca’s Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park. “Murder at the Butcher’s” is Nov. 22 to 24.
Pessin worked for Voice of America for 39 years. He covered the White House, the Pentagon, and Wall Street. He reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Ukraine and Britain.
Q: What’s the plot of the play?
A: It’s a murder-mystery spoof. Mayhem ensues when Brooklyn butcher Benny Benjamin finds a body in his walk-in fridge. Then it disappears. Benny must cover up the truth, even though he doesn’t know what the truth is.
Q: How did you transform from facts to fiction?
A: Writing the play was fun for me. I’m a frustrated comedian. After working on “Sandblast” [his novel out soon] it was a pleasure to write something funny.
Q: How long did this play take you from writing to staging?
A: A year to a year and a half. The writing kind of flowed. I hired an editor who brought her experience to bear on what worked and didn’t work. “Sandblast” went through 10 drafts. The play went through two.
Q: How did you make that transition?
A: When I retired from VOA four years ago, I wanted to try writing fiction. I took adult education writing classes through Palm Beach County Educator, meeting at Boca Middle School and Old School Square.
Q: Did you have a plot in mind?
A: I had an idea for a novel when I covered the Pentagon from 2005 to 2011. I started working on it when I moved to Delray from my last post in London. My first novel is being published March 31. It’s already on Amazon.
Q: How did the play come together?
A: I got involved in writing groups and took classes in Delray and Boca. One of the groups I joined was Mystery Writers of America. I had never written a play. I had to look [on the Internet] on how to format a script.
Q: What was your next step?
A: I found out about The Playgroup, playwrights and actors that get together every month at the Glades Road Branch Library. The playwrights bring pages and the actors do cold readings. Everyone critiques in a supportive atmosphere.
They liked it and when I finished, they said, send it in. Teresa Biber LoMonte said she wanted to direct it. The board approved and we were launched.
Q: Were you at rehearsals?
A: Yes. The director is very generous and invited me to participate in the process.
It was a great opportunity for me to do this for the first time. Fascinating to see it come to life. Helped me transition from journalism.
Q: What did the play win?
A: “Murder at the Butcher’s” won two awards at the Royal Palm Literary Awards in Orlando. It was the Florida Writers’ Association annual conference. The play received the Gold Award in the Unproduced Stage Play category. It also received the Dahris Clair Memorial Award for Best Play of the Year.
By Marci Shatzman