WILLIAMSTOWN -- Fair warning: Don't go to see "American Hero" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on an empty stomach.
"The actors make a lot of sandwiches during the play, so don't come hungry," playwright Bess Wohl warned during a recent interview about the comedy, which will debut on the Nikos Stage on Wednesday.
Making sandwiches named "Big Kahuna Tuna" and "Turkey Torpedo" are all part of the four-person show, which is set in a sandwich shop. The story revolves around 17-year-old Sheri, who takes the lead to save their jobs and the shop when the franchise owner suddenly disappears.
"My favorite comedy is the kind that is based on some kind of truth about humanity," Wohl said. "I hope people really embrace these characters as people and feel for them."
Part of her inspiration was taken from a real-life scenario -- one that made headlines.
"It is partially inspired by a true story of a girl who worked in a sandwich franchise and found a very creative way of saving her franchise from ruin after the manager disappeared," she said. "It's a true story I found in the media. I sort of riffed on that true story, with some other sources of inspiration. I was interested in the industrial food complex in America -- huge food chains and their effect on small businesses -- and the way our vision of the American dream has shifted since the demise of so much small business. The play really is about freedom in America, and how as a society, we find freedom as individuals in our daily life. I hope it make people think about how they can find freedom in their own lives."
Wohl added, "It's really interesting to come to this community to do it. I actually do hope it speaks to people in this community. I think it speaks to people all across America, especially in this current economic climate. That was another huge source of inspiration for me -- sort of how we as individuals can collectively pull through."
"American Hero," which was partially developed by Wohl and director Leigh Silverman last summer during a week-long workshop at the Cape Cod Theatre Festival in Falmouth, will have its world premiere at the WTF. But as of last Tuesday, the play was still evolving, with a total of 10 new pages being added to the script.
"This is the first time I've ever seen any of these characters embodied by actors," Wohl said. "I'm adjusting the characters based on what the actors do, and I really feel like the actors are co-creating these characters with me and Leigh, whose had a huge hand in shaping this play as well The actors keep surprising me with what they bring to the characters. They speak up when they feel like a line is not what their character would say. Sometimes I agree with them, and sometimes I urge them to just to trust me a little bit. It's been a great collaboration."
As a playwright and a actor, Wohl is no stranger to the festival, having begun her affiliation with the former Act I Company and later as a member of the non-Equity and Equity companies. In 2011, her play "Touch(ed)" was performed on the Nikos Stage.
"Having been back as a playwright twice, it's really exciting for me. When I came here first, as a totally unpaid non-Equity actor, I looked up to the professional actors and writers so much," she said. "To be one of them now is really thrilling I kind of have to pinch myself a little bit. I hope that I can inspire them in some way like people inspired me when I was here. It's a great community to be part of."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email