LOWELL — Playwright Steven Drukman chuckles when recalling the first discussion he had with Merrimack Repertory Theatre artistic director Sean Daniels earlier this year about writing a new play for the theatre.
“Sean said we need a holiday offering, and how about something that involves the Red Sox and ideally Ted Williams,” said Drukman, 53. “And it would be great if it could only be with three actors.”
There was one more thing. The play would need to be completed in time to be this year’s Christmas production.
“This was a real test,” said Drukman. “Plays are often in gestation for years before they go to opening night. It takes a year of readings and many drafts before you even get to development.”
The Red Sox fan in Drukman wouldn’t let him turn down the challenge.
Daniels sought out Drukman, an old colleague and friend, for his baseball knowledge. A Newton native, Drukman grew up worshipping Carl Yastrzemski, who he watched roam Fenway Park’s outfield from his family’s season tickets along the third base line.
In search of an idea for the play, Drukman began reading about Williams’s life. His research led him to David Halberstam’s “The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship,” a book in which former Boston Red Sox teammates Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio drive 1,300 miles to Florida to visit a dying Ted Williams in 2001.
While Drukman liked the idea of two people taking a road trip to see Williams, he didn’t think Halberstam’s book had a strong enough story to be adapted into a 90-minute play.
“That set me on the path of thinking, ‘Hey, what if two very different types of people went to visit Ted Williams, and how they get along on their visit,'” said Drukman.
Drukman, who once covered theatre for The New York Times, decided to make the play’s fictional characters Boston Globe reporters seeking an interview with the ailing Williams. One is a young, burgeoning female sportswriter (Veronika Duerr). The other is an older, effete man (Joel Colodner) who writes about arts and culture for the newspaper’s Living/Arts section.
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The younger reporter’s husband (John Gregorio) is along for the drive, working on his doctoral dissertation in psychology in the backseat. Gregorio also plays several other minor characters, including Williams.
“I thought, well this sort of speaks to both sides of me, the young sports fan, and the person who writes about more rarefied pursuits,” said Drukman.
Drukman’s play, “Going to See the Kid,” will be staged at the MRT from Nov. 30 to Dec. 24. Directing the play is Alexander Greenfield, MRT’s newly-hired director of new play development.
In recent weeks, Greenfield said he has been working on final rewrites “and all of the stuff that goes with a world premiere.”
Greenfield moved to Lowell from New York this year for his new job at the MRT. He lives in a downtown loft along the Merrimack River, which he describes as “positively palatial” compared to his former Manhattan studio apartment.
Greenfield previously worked on Broadway as an associate director with Tony Award-winning director Doug Hughes (“Doubt: A Parable”). He said the opportunity to work on world premieres drew him to the MRT.
“If you’re doing a classic show that was written 50 years ago and a problem emerges, you don’t have the option to change it, to make it work better for our community and our audience,” said Greenfield. “When you’re dealing with new plays, where the author is very much involved, you can really custom tailor it to a specific community.”
Drukman’s play was written with Lowell audiences in mind. During rehearsal, Greenfield said he often looked to the play’s lightning designer and resident Red Sox fan, Brian J. Lilienthal, to determine if the baseball references and jokes were ringing true.
“In some ways, he’s our target audience, the guy that loves the theater, loves the game of baseball, loves the Red Sox,” said Greenfield. “So when we get a big laugh from him, we know it’s working.”
Drukman is quick to point out that “Going to see the Kid” is not a play about baseball, but rather “a Christmas play that is almost incidentally a sports play.” During rewrites, much of the play’s baseball terminology (on base percentage, slugging percentage) hit the cutting room floor because it was deemed too obscure for a general audience.
When beginning work on a play, Drukman likes to think of a question that he can “unknot.” Drukman said “Going to See the Kid” tackles the question: “Can we reach across divides to find commonalities with one another?”
“That was something that I thought spoke to the holiday spirit,” said Drukman. “How can we have allegiances, but also love our enemy? How can we find something in common with a Yankees fan, as impossible as that might be to imagine?”
All performances will be held at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack St. in downtown Lowell. Tickets range from $70 to $26 and are on sale now at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678.
Follow Chris Camire on Twitter @chriscamire.