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For a time, Hot Springs neurologist Richard Pellegrino's business card read: “No nerve too big, no brain too small.” It's a nugget the doctor reveals in the course of explaining how he came to write “I Love You … Not,” a play that's being directed by renowned New York acting coach and director Roger Simon and that will likely make its stage debut Off Broadway in the spring or summer, but not before it debuts, as a staged reading, at the RayLynn Theater in downtown Hot Springs on Friday and Saturday.
Pellegrino isn't giving away specifics about “I Love You…” beyond that it's “about a psychologist who is blackmailed into falsifying a report on a reality TV producer, who has been fired unjustly.” More broadly, he'll say that it's a psychodrama — the characters play mind games with each other. And who better to conjure elaborate mind games than a neurologist? Pellegrino says he's learned a lot about human nature from interacting with his patients.
“These are people in desperate situations often. One of the privileges of medicine is that people will tell you things they wouldn't normally, so you see how different people react in different situations.”
Pellegrino's path to playwriting has taken a circuitous route through the arts. He's the founder of the Physicians Media Project, an organization designed to “develop tools and products that facilitate the accurate portrayal of the human side of illness” in TV and movies and in print. About five years ago, he produced a documentary on multiple sclerosis, “Taking Back the Future,” which screened at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. He writes poetry and, several years ago, wrote a medical thriller, “Point Source.”
Pellegrino says he'd long wanted to write a play, but didn't want to do it without a strong collaborator. Then he met Simon, in New York, at The Players, a historic arts and theater club founded by Edmund Booth and Mark Twain in Gramercy Park in New York, and the partnership helped bring the play to life. Simon cast actors in New York, including “Sopranos” vet Dan Grimaldi, and over the course of two years — with an eight-month hiatus last year —Pellegrino traveled back and forth to New York to work on parts with Simon, who also acts, and the rest of the players.
Friday and Saturday's staged readings will “look like a play and move like a play,” Pellegrino says. But actors will have access to the script if they need it, though even then, since much of the play happens at a desk, the audience probably won't notice.
Even with a burgeoning career as a playwright and a campaign underway for the state House of Representatives (District 25), Pellegrino doesn't anticipate quitting his medical practice — or anything else.
“I see the whole thing as related. In my mind, they're all different facets of what I do.”
“I Love You … Not”
7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 19
2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20
RayLynn Theater, Hot Springs
$20 (matinee), $25 (evening performances), $25 (for opening night, post-performance wine and cheese reception)
For advance tickets, call 501-624-7469