Todd Evans aims for cultural and historical authenticity in his plays. His latest work, Troublesome Creek, celebrates the life of environmental writer and activist Rachel Carson, who lands in a small Kentucky mining town in the 1960s to defend her new book Silent Spring. The play is being performed this week by Sonoma Stage Works, a company that Evans cofounded in 2008. In his “other” life, Todd is an innkeeper who runs the River’s End Retreat Center on the Navarro River in Mendocino with his wife Marge.
Are you originally from the Bay Area? If not, what brought you here, and when?
I moved to the Bay Area from Southern California in 1972 because I was in love with the fresh air that blows off the ocean and the possibility of nearby walks in nature.
What is your educational background? Did you major in theatre?
No – I graduated from Princeton with a BA in art history, and received my doctorate in theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
What inspired you to write a play about Rachel Carson?
Rachel Carson is often acknowledged as the mother of the environmental movement; my own mother went to bat to preserve wetlands from chemical contamination when I was a youth in the 50’s. Even so, before I wrote the play I wasn’t familiar with Rachel’s work, but now she’s a heroine to me.
When did you found Sonoma Stage Works?
In 2008. I wanted to present provocative drama to Sonoma County audiences. I’m proud of all five of the productions we’ve done, including two that I wrote. I’m a latecomer to playwriting, but I feel my skills have developed over the years through exposure to plays in the Bay Area and with the help of friends who have been eager to read my work and provide their critiques.
What have been your most significant challenges doing this work?
My biggest challenge as a playwright is to be humble enough to listen to, and accept, suggestions. On the production side, mounting a full theatre piece is a huge task. I’m always on the lookout for helpers.
I’ve read that you like to immerse yourself in a locale and a culture to make your work more authentic. Did you do something similar in your preparations for writing Troublesome Creek?
Yes. I made two cultural research trips to Eastern Kentucky. It’s sad and gruesome to see a mountaintop removal operation. But my trips were more to get familiar with customs and develop an ear for the language. Most of my research on Rachel Carson has been through her books and biographies.
How has the response been so far?
Very good. This play might well be the first to break some geographic boundaries and play in other locales!
What do you like about working in community theater?
In our society we’re often pursuing lives isolated from one another. In community theater, with so many tasks to be filled, there is the thrill of working together for a beautiful product.
What’s your favorite natural place to hike or walk in the Bay Area?
We have the Overlook Trail in Sonoma, which climbs above the town with views all the way to San Francisco on a clear day.
Troublesome Creek continues its run through September 15th at Sonoma Community Center’s Andrews Hall. Click here for showtimes and directions.