Local Playwright Wins One-Act Competition

by Wayne Ford of "Athens Banner Herald"
June 1, 2004

Dan Guyton seemed relaxed enough. But everyone has a dark side. It's just that Guyton reaches into the cryptic murk of his mind and puts it on stage for anyone to see.

''I'm a friendly guy, but a lot of times when I write, I tap into these emotions,'' he said. And his creativity simmered when he wrote what he frankly admits is a ''disturbing'' play.

But ''Attic'' has proven to have an audience appeal. Recently, the play took first place in the one-act play competition at the annual American College Theatre Festival held in Birmingham, Ala.

''It's done in a very metaphysical way. I wasn't trying to be like schlock, but emotionally horrific on a gut level,'' said Guyton, who last week finished his master's degree from the University of Georgia.

The winning play deals with a young man 18 to 20 years old, who is released from a mental institute. He was institutionalized for trying to murder his family. Then he tries to take his own life. As the play progresses, the family comes to believe he isn't healed, creating tension.

The play is impressionistic, Guyton said, as much of the perspective is from the main character's mind. And a lot of the dialogue is in verse, darkly written as if influenced by Edgar Allen Poe.

In fact, the play was born as a poem in late 2001 after Sept. 11. Fed by Guyton's loneliness from just moving to the new surroundings and people of Athens and the horror stories emerging from New York, a story began to form.

''The more I wrote it, the more I knew I didn't want it to be about me, but another character. And it slowly turned into this kid.''

The play received rave reviews at the festival in Alabama, but this isn't the first time Guyton has won a competition for college playwrights. This was his third year entering this competition, and two years ago, he won first place for a one-act play he took to a competition in New York. ''Where's Julie'' was later developed into a full-length piece and performed locally.

Stanley Longman, director of the UGA Department of Drama and Theatre, said Guyton ''has a knack for developing dialogue for characters that's a little weird and engaging. And he is also an extremely good director.''

''He's also highly motivated and goes after things,'' he said.

Guyton's prize for winning the competition is that the university will host a production of ''Attic'' this summer or fall.

Now that he is winding up his life in Athens, Guyton said he's mapping his path for a future job, one he expects will lead him first to New York where he will try teaching and playwriting. One day, he wants to move into film.

Guyton grew up on Long Island, N.Y., in a town called Farmingville. He graduated State University of New York at Albany with double majors in theater and English.

''I've always wanted to get into film. As a young kid I used to go to the movies all the time. I also wrote poetry and short stories, so I when I went off to college, my goal was to be a writer,'' he said. In college, there was no film program, so he took theater classes.

His first theatrical role was as a boyfriend for the lead actress in the play ''Isn't It Romantic.'

'By the time he was a senior in college, he felt his career moving toward the stage.

''I was graduating, but I felt like I was just really getting started on my education. So I really wanted to go to grad school,'' he said.

He applied with the United Regional Theater Association, which works with universities and colleges looking for graduate students in theater. He then was contacted by four colleges, among them the University of Illinois and University of Southern California. He met a college representative and learned UGA was looking for a playwright. UGA offered him a full assistantship, which also would give him teaching experience.

He arrived in Athens in the late summer 2001.

Now, with a master's degree in hand, Guyton said he plans to move back to New York where a friend wants to start an acting troupe.

''Part of what I like about being a writer and an actor is it gives me more diversity and options,'' he said.

''I still want to get into the movies. I still want to do that,'' he said. ''But I'm trying to build up a name as a theater artist. If I do that, then maybe people will take me more seriously in the film industry.''

Play's title Not as Blasphemous as It Sounds

by Erin Rossiter of "Athens Banner Herald"
February 27, 2009

Don't judge a play by its title.

Blasphemy hasn't taken over the stage at Athens Community Theater, where "The Mother of God Visits Hell" is playing.

Director Patric Ryan told his Town & Gown Players as much before they decided to accept their roles.

"When no one knows anything about (the play), they see the title, read the poster and that in itself lends to some kind of controversy," Ryan said.

When possible cast members, some of whom are Catholic, expressed their concern, this is what he told them.

"Here's the play. Take it home. Read it and if there is really anything in there that's objectionable, I understand," Ryan said.

The actors and actresses returned - pleased."

At first glance, I could see where some people would be concerned, but it's really not that kind of a piece," said Ryan, who also is Catholic. "It surprises you in the end in a good way."

Ironically, endings don't come easily to playwright Daniel Guyton, who finished the drama last September and will attend each show being presented as part of Town & Gown's Second Stage for original works.

"The Mother of God Visits Hell" was no exception.

Guyton, 31, developed the play based on a poem referenced in "The Brothers Karamazov," a Russian novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Summarized by the novel's brother characters, the poem supposedly centers on Mary visiting hell to comfort condemned souls. She gives up her own soul to save them and others, an act that results in a holy war between God and Satan.

Guyton assumed the poem referenced in the 19th-century novel was real.

But he never could find the actual verse, leading him to think Dostoyevsky made it up as a narrative device.

So Guyton decided to do the same thing.

He adopted most of the story for his play, crafted his own ending, and even picked dialogue structure suitable for Dostoyevsky's made-up poem pitched as centuries old - iambic pentameter.

"I had to be very controlled with how I worded everything," he said. "I was constantly looking in the dictionary. Sometimes it took days to come up with just the right word for a certain line. It was definitely tedious, but not necessarily difficult."

Suiting the feel of the script, Ryan decided to present the play with "traditional Medieval" sets and costumes, the director said.

There are 15 characters in the script, who Ryan likens to "team heaven," "team hell" and "team Earth." Their interactions are comedic, at times, with Satan clever in his attacks, and demons, conversely, prone to fumbling and bumbling, "Laurel-and-Hardy" like.

"Satan is very sly, very sneaky," Guyton said, of how he built his characters. "There is certain humor in how he tries to manipulate the situations."

But for an abiding interest in writing and ultimately theater, Guyton said he might have picked religious studies as a major in college. He enjoys philosophical problems and gravitates as a playwright toward controversial topics for dramatic conflict, including homosexuality, abortion, suicide, extramarital affairs and more.

Guyton, a Fayetteville resident, graduated from UGA with a master of fine arts degree in drama in 2004. During his time here, he wrote and directed "Where's Julie?," which Town & Gown staged in 2003. Ryan was a lead actor in that play.

The two have remained friends since then and plan to partner up on another project involving "The Mother of God," which might be recorded for radio and possibly adopted for an animation project.

"I knew of Dan's talent when I first read his piece or saw his play," Ryan said. "We've collaborated on a number of projects that he has written. It's just a matter of time. It may be this (one) here, stage to radio, radio to animation. Who knows? At some point one of Dan's pieces will take off."

If you go...

'The Mother of God Visits Hell'

Town & Gown Players, Second Stage production

When: 8 tonight , and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Athens Community Theater,

115 Grady Ave.

Cost: $5

Call: (706) 548-3854 or visit www.townandgownplayers.org

Details: Directed by Patric Ryan, the drama centers on the Virgin Mary who visits hell with God's permission. Moved by the plight of souls there, she tries save them and starts a holy war. Daniel Guyton, a former Athens resident and University of Georgia graduate, wrote the original work and will attend each show.

"The Mother of God Visits Hell" also is premiering this week in a hotel theater in Long Beach, Calif.