Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

CREATING CHARACTERS: “It’s so important for a writer to meet all kinds of people. The more people you know, the better. This helps your work, and I make a point of writing from more than one point of view. I like to explore — as much as I can — where every character on stage is coming from, not just the character I happen to agree with. I write about people first.” Charles Evered, playwright and screenwriter, creates multi-layered characters of remarkable depth.

Playwright Charles Evered Enjoys Princeton’s Community of Culture

Charles Evered is a man with a mission. He likes to tell stories, and he does so through plays, film, and television. A respected playwright and screenwriter, he looks forward to his next challenge: directing. In March of 2007, he will direct the world premiere staging of his play, “Adopt A Sailor” off-off Broadway in New York City, and in the fall of 2007, he will direct a short film, Visiting in Princeton, based on his play of the same name. Looking further ahead, Mr. Evered plans to direct a feature film, Ride, his own original screen play, in early 2008.

“I hope to be able to direct and write,” he explains. “When I write a play or screenplay, I want to express my own vision. And if I direct, then I can also bring out my own vision of the piece.”

Mr. Evered has been bringing forth his “vision” through plays and stories from the time he was a boy. Although his first dream was to become a major league baseball player, this New Jersey native (who loved the Boston Red Sox!), began staging plays early on, recalls his sister, Anne Evered.

“All of us Evereds were budding playwrights. Off we’d go to write the story, stage each scene, and spend most of the day rehearsing. Chuck was more ambitious than any of us. His imagination has no boundaries. When my older brother and I staged plays in the back yard, Chuck, as a teenager, retained the William Carlos Williams Center in Rutherford to stage his plays, and invited professional actors to perform in them.”

Wonderful Times

This and a variety of other activities and experiences reflect happy times in Mr. Evered’s boyhood and with his family. The youngest of the five children of Marie and Charles Evered, he has four siblings: Robby, Danny, Anne, and Kathleen. Born in Passaic in 1964, Charles grew up in Rutherford.

“I had wonderful times as a kid,” he says. “Our parents wanted us to be exposed to a lot. On Thanksgiving, and especially Christmas, we’d be surrounded by all these presents, and then Dad would get the car, and we’d drive over to Newark. He and my mom would point out that not everyone had what we did, and that the holidays were not just about getting.

“Our family was always service-oriented,“ he continues. “My great-grandfather and my grandfather were both the fire chief of Rutherford, and my dad served in World War II. Our family admired the Kennedys, and my mom used to serve meals on plates with their pictures — especially Jack and Bobby. This was in the late ‘60s.

“My dad was very outgoing and good at communicating and getting his ideas across. My mom was quiet and funny, with an ironic humor. We’d take driving trips to the Great Lakes and Florida, and also went to California. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they spent it on worthwhile things.”

Charles, known as Chuck to his family and friends, looked up to Carl Yastremski of the Red Sox, and played on the Rutherford High School baseball team. He was also a great reader and a fan of Henry David Thoreau. He kept a journal in which he regularly wrote.

“I realized two things when I was at Rutherford High School,” he reports. “One, I was not going to be a major league baseball player, which had been my dream, and two, I loved writing. Hugh Thomas was my English teacher, and he had been in the original cast of The Fantastics. He was wonderful. He’d act out all the parts in the Shakespeare plays. He was funny and intense, and he turned me on to dramatic literature.”

The Evereds’ family life changed dramatically with the death of his father when Charles was 14. “When my dad died, writing in the journals was an outlet for me,” he remembers.

His mother did her best to continue the children’s exposure to cultural and civic life. “She’d take us to New York to see Broadway plays, and she also took me to Washington, D.C. to Reagan’s inauguration, so I could be a part of the event. And we went to London to see relatives.

Theater Group

“We had quality, not quantity,” reflects Mr. Evered. “I lost my parents early — Dad when I was 14, my mom when I was 21. But I had parents I loved and who loved me.”

After graduating from high school, Charles attended the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, planning to major in Russian literature. “That didn’t work out though,” he recalls. “That area in Rhode Island was very remote. I felt isolated, and drifted to the theater group. They were interesting and fun.”

He decided to transfer to Rutgers, the Newark campus, the following year, and as he points out, “A big turning point for me was when I got a job as a security guard at the William Carlos Wiliams Center for the Performing Arts in Rutherford. About 25 of us, friends from Rutgers and other workers at the Center, decided we should put on some plays. I started writing the plays, and we called it The Other Syde Theater Company.”

Critiques from area publications were positive, and Mr. Evered says it was all good instruction for him in the need for keeping a perspective. “The great lesson was that after we’d gotten very good reviews from the local papers, I still had to go and clean the toilets as part of my job!”

Similarly, he notes that while enjoying the benefits of what has become a very successful career, he makes a point of remembering when things weren’t so smooth. “There are ups and downs in anyone’s life, and I don’t forget the things I didn’t get and the disappointments.”

After graduating from Rutgers with a degree in English literature in 1987, he moved to Hoboken, and worked at a variety of jobs, including as a carpenter’s assistant, all the while continuing to write plays.

Lots of Scripts

It was in Hoboken that he met producer Charles Rucker, who recalls their first introduction. “I was with the Renegade Theater, and we read lots of scripts. We had a theater in the VFW Hall, and one day on the steps leading up to the hall, we found a script. It was Running Funny, written by this 22-year-old guy, and was very funny and touching at the same time, and very appropriate to Hoboken. So, I called him up, and we hit it off immediately.”

The 22-year-old was Charles Evered, and this was his first real success. “We did a reading,” continues Mr. Rucker, “and it went very well. Later, I became co-production manager of the theater, and we did another of his plays, One Call, which I directed.”

Another lucky break came along for Mr. Evered when he got a job at Lincoln Center as assistant to director Del Close. “This was a great opportunity, and I also kept writing. Then, I sent some of my plays to the Williamstown Theater Festival, and I was asked to go up as a playwriting intern. I assisted Joanne Woodward and Austin Pendleton, among others, and I did this for three or four summers.”

Then it was on to Yale Drama School to focus on dramatic writing. “There were four people in every class,” remembers Mr. Evered, “and it was very intense. The first day at Yale, we were in Room 101, the late George Baker’s famous playwriting class room, and I kept thinking I had gotten into Yale by mistake!”

It was no mistake, and Yale offered many new possibilities, including exposure to screenwriting. “I was very influenced by film director George Roy Hill (known especially for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting), who was a visiting professor for the year. He became my greatest mentor,” says Mr. Evered. “This was an ‘Aha!’ moment. He was someone I felt I could emulate and look up to. He was tough and frank like my dad. I began to think maybe I could do both — plays and film. He was a great teacher.

“I was also influenced at Yale by artistic director Lloyd Richards and playwright August Wilson. Others came to speak, too, including Arthur Miller, and he was shown my play The Size of the World. Two months later, I had a letter from him, saying, ‘I liked your play’ and what he thought was good about it. I was thrilled.”

Terrific Play

Also at Yale, he met fellow student, Sean Cullen, now artistic director of American National Theater, who recalls their association with pleasure. “I did the first production of Chuck’s play, The Size of the World, at Yale. It’s one of my fondest memories during my three years there. It’s a terrific play, with three of the most sympathetic but complicated characters you’ll ever see in a contemporary work. And it’s incredibly funny.

“Those traits are characteristic of Chuck, too. He’s a guy with a huge heart and brain to match, who knows intimately the dark and light sides to life, and he infuses his work with ample portions of both. When I started in on The American National Theatre project in New York three and a half years ago, I certainly had Chuck’s work in mind. It is quintessentially American.”

Receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1991, Mr. Evered was on the move. New opportunities presented themselves when he won an Albee Fellowship, enabling him to attend a summer writing workshop at the Edward Albee Foundation in Montauk, N. Y., and he received the Chesterfield Screenwriting Fellowship, sponsored by Amblin (now Dreamworks), director Steven Spielberg’s company.

“Scouts from there had come to Yale and other schools to see plays,” explains Mr. Evered, “and I was invited to Los Angeles to learn about writing screenplays. There were 10 writers, including poets, short story writers, and playwrights, and we were introduced to screenwriting. It is different than writing a play. In screenwriting, they say ‘Show, don’t tell.’ There is less dialogue, and it’s almost from a different side of your mind. I liked it, too, though, and I think it’s healthier to do many different things.”

One of the differences he points out, too, is that while a moment on screen can be captured for the future, “with a play, this magic is happening now. It’s like falling in love — you can’t replicate that moment.”

Mr. Evered stayed in Los Angeles for four years, learned the craft, and wrote, among other projects, a screen play, Home Spun, which led to a Blind Deal from Dreamworks. “You are paid by the company to write a screen play of your own choosing,” he explains. “It also got me a great agent. I liked L.A. as a single guy, but after a few years, I was writing and being paid, but nothing was getting produced. So, in 1994, I moved to New York and had some great years there.”

Real Voice

He and producer Charles Rucker were in touch again, and as Mr. Rucker reports, “I had seen a production of Chuck’s play, The Size of the World, and we secured the rights, and it was performed at Circle Repertory Theater. We had a wonderful cast, with Rita Moreno, Louis Zorich, and Frank Whaley, and it was a very successful production.

“Chuck and I have known each other a long time, and I think he is a tremendous playwright. He has grown tremendously, and his maturity is amazing. He is someone with a real voice. He has a way of creating characters and moments on the stage that are totally believable and accessible and unique. I think he always has had the ability to create characters that any audience could connect to, and yet there are unexpected twists and turns to them.”

In 1997, after successful years in New York, Mr. Evered decided to take time off to travel in the U.S. and overseas. Expanding one’s horizons as a writer is always welcome, and he headed first to Maine (he had never been there), followed by China (narrowly escaping an abduction attempt), Japan, and Vietnam.

“I really traveled all over Asia and then to Russia. I was gone about a year, and it was a great experience. It’s very important to keep myself open to ideas, and traveling is very useful in this.”

Needing to replenish his finances, however, he set off for Los Angeles again, and sold a story, Carrier, about an aircraft carrier, to Dreamworks.

His life changed dramatically in 1998, when he got married. He had actually met actress Wendy Rolfe when she was a graduate student at Yale Drama School, but it was just a brief introduction before he graduated.

Third Date

“Yale was really a godsend for me,” he says. “It was where I first met my wife, and I had all these wonderful opportunities. I remember Wendy was a pretty blonde girl, studying design and acting. Now she was working as an actress in L.A., and I met her at one of my plays. I proposed on our third date, and we were married by the director, Arthur Hiller, who was also a minister.”

In 1999, to the surprise (and with the full support) of his wife, Mr. Evered joined the Naval Reserve. “My family had a tradition of serving, and I wanted to to do something, to give back,” he explains. “I was commissioned into the Navy by Senator John McCain, and I graduated from the U.S. Naval Aviation School’s Command in Pensacola, Fla., and also served in Pennsylvania and California. I am currently a lieutenant in the Ready Reserve.”

After September 11, 2001, accompanied by a Navy photographer, Mr. Evered went to the site of the World Trade Center to document the destruction for articles he planned to write. The Evereds had decided to relocate to the east coast, and “9/11 helped consolidate why we wanted to come east,” he says. “We had felt distant from this tragedy, and wanted to be here and closer to family.”

Moving to Madison, the Evereds, now with two children, Margaret and John, found themselves coming to Princeton on many weekends, and then decided to make it their east coast home. Because of his screen play work, Mr. Evered commutes to California regularly, where he resides in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs.

“The lucky thing about my life is that I could live anywhere — California, New Jersey, New York, New England — and I have lived in all of those places,” he points out. “But we really love Princeton. It’s a great place for the kids. They have stability here and go to Community Park School. I really wouldn’t want them growing up in L.A. We love the University and what it offers, we love the library, and we love Community Park School. Our kids are happy.

“And one of the things I like best about Princeton is that the life of the mind is celebrated here. I like going to Starbuck’s and hearing people arguing about Tolstoy’s War and Peace. We are here to stay in Princeton.”

“Adopt A Sailor”

This view is echoed by his wife, Wendy Rolfe Evered, who continues to act in her husband’s plays and screen plays. She will appear in a reading of his play Adopt A Sailor December 14 at the Arts Council, and in his film Visiting next fall.

“I guess we see ourselves as Bohemians doing our best to raise our kids in this wonderful town that has such an abundance of art and science, music, history — you name it,” reports Mrs. Evered. “As an actress and as a mother, I am encouraged to see so many things available to us.

“And Chuck is such a versatile and very disciplined writer that I constantly marvel at what he can produce, deadlines he can meet, under some unbelievably challenging circumstances: for example, writing a Monk episode while living in a hotel room with two small and very energetic kids.

“One tradition we have is that as soon as Chuck finishes a script, I am the first to read it. He baby-sits while I settle in at Starbucks and have a good read. And because Chuck can make you laugh one minute, and then sob the next, I must admit that I have probably laughed and cried in more Starbucks in more states than most people. But I consider it an honor. People may think I’m a wacko, but oh well!”

The Monk episode Mrs. Evered referred to will air in January 2007 on USA network and will star Emmy-winner Tony Shaloub. It is titled Mr. Monk and the Leper, and is Mr. Evered’s first experience with episodic TV. He is also pleased to have sold a pilot to NBC, called Reserve Center, which focuses on military life on the homefront.

In addition, his play Celadine, starring Amy Irving, received excellent reviews when it played at George Street Playhouse. As his friend and fellow playwright, William Mastrosimone says, “There is a scene in Celadine that is about as sophisticated as comedy gets, a scene that would make serious comedy writers envious.

Important Writer

“Chuck has a very worldly side that informs his work. He has a firm grip of human nature. You see that strain in all his work. And as for the work itself, he has a very sure hand that ranges from the muscular to the ethereal. In a single line, he can draw a character, chill you to the bone, or bring down the house.

“All in all, I think Chuck Evered is a savvy, hugely talented, universal, important writer. When I go to a theater to see his work, I know there will be substance that will stick to the ribs, so to speak. And as much as I enjoy his work, I believe his best work is still ahead of him.”

Sean Cullen agrees with these observations. “Chuck has grown enormously over the last 18 years, which says a lot because I thought he was one of the most talented writers to come out of Yale during our time there. And for all he’s accomplished as a playwright so far — and for some, it would be a life’s work already — I think he’s only getting started.”

Anne Evered adds that while not surprised at her brother’s choice of careers, she is impressed by his talent. “Each time I see his plays I’m blown away that he has so much talent! Even when he was doing his graduate work, and The Size of the World was performed at the Yale Rep Theater, I remember picking up my tickets at the box office and noticing that they cost $30.00 each. I thought, ‘Oh no, these people think they’re going to see a play by a real playwright! Watching his play that night, seeing Chuck and the actors receive a standing ovation, I finally realized that Chuck had more than just ambition, but is indeed blessed with true talent.”

Commerce and Art

Mr. Evered is grateful for such warm words, the positive reception his work has received, his numerous awards and fellowships, and that such well-known actors as Sam Waterston, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Liev Schreiber, Eric Stoltz, Bebe Neuwirth, Olympia Dukakis, and Paul Giamatti, among others, have appeared in his plays. He looks forward to all that is ahead, including a feature film made of his play Running Funny to be released next year. In the midst of his success, however, Mr. Evered remains very centered. He knows what his work means to him and why he writes.

“I want my kids to know about my work. I do this not for the money, not for the recognition, but for the legacy I can leave to my kids and to whomever. I can leave a body of work and share my ideas. Also, there is always the challenge in my work of finding a balance between commerce and art, finding a way to write what matters and take care of my children. I mean, I look at my kids’ mouths, and they have to be fed! I hope that being a good dad is my proudest achievement.”

When they get a chance, the Evereds love to travel, and take busman’s holidays, enjoying theater and film. “My favorite movie is always It’s A Wonderful Life, he says. “You can always learn from that. And my favorite play is School For Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He fascinates me. He was in government as well as a playwright. The play is very funny and very smart.”

Regarding his own work, Mr. Evered reflects on the world of ideas and what theater has meant to people through the centuries. “I feel compelled to tell stories about human beings, not because I like or don’t like any particular President, or want to impress what in the end is a very limited constituency. I make a point of not writing ‘message’ plays because it’s been my experience that overt ‘political plays’ become smaller onstage than the ideas they’re hoping to convey.

“I write stories that I feel personally compelled to tell. I’m a political independent both as a writer and as a citizen. I don’t write ‘for’ or ‘against’ the government. I think writing, playwriting, telling stories in general, is much more important work than what most politicians do.

“Theater predates politics, and there’s a reason. Because it’s more elemental to who we are. Because in the end, when someone does an archaeological dig on our little society here, what is going to interest them is not so much who we elected as our senator or whomever, but rather — what stories did we tell? What did we feel was important enough to convey in our literature or our plays or even on television? Those will be the remnants we leave behind, not zoning laws or how someone voted on any particular issue. In the end, just as with the Greeks, I believe what will resonate — will be the stories."

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