As a child camping with his family, David Whiteman spent many evenings gazing wide-eyed at the lights twinkling across the lake. He imagined the places and people that might have been over there, in that fantastical and enthusiastic way children do. “I think I was sort of imagining the future,” Whiteman says. “I think — or I hope — that’s a common experience.”
While taking time off from his public service job four years ago, Whiteman watched old movies and started feeling sentimental for that wondrous feeling from his childhood. He began writing a play that he hoped would “capture that feeling and maybe reawaken that kind of place in other people’s hearts that maybe they’ve forgotten about.”
The play, called The Lights of Shangri-La, is the first play of Whiteman’s to be produced. The work is sad and funny but, most of all, hopeful. Produced by TotoToo Theatre, the play’s premiere will be guided by the steady hand of Sarah Hearn, a director with 28 years’ experience, and includes original music composed by Mike Heffernan.
To safeguard his plot, Whiteman’s description of the play is quite sparse. “At the outset, it’s about a woman who has been battling cancer, and she’s gotten some good news and is heading off to the family cottage to celebrate and to mend the fractured romance between her gay brother and his partner,” Whiteman says. “It gets a lot more complicated after that.”
The central characters — a middle-aged brother and sister — have led extraordinary lives. She’s a famous broadcast journalist, he’s a former Broadway performer — but they’ve each had their struggles. “In a way, the play is about achieving some of your dreams and seeing others fall flat, the way life really does do,” Whiteman says, “and yet they come back to the lake, and I think they’re still dreamers at heart.”