Playwright Keith Stevenson embraces his Fried Meat family with his comic trilogy’s triumphant return to Pacific Resident Theatre
By Shanee Edwards
Playwright and actor Keith Stevenson has created an unusual brand for his theatrical trilogy.
Fans of the three comedies — “Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road,” “A Fried Meat Christmas” and “The Unfryable Meatness of Being,” all set at the Fried Meat Motel in West Virginia — have become so passionate, so obsessive, that Stevenson considers them much more than loyal audience members. He calls them the “Fried Meat family.”
After various successful individual runs over the past three years at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, Stevenson’s Fried Meat plays return for an encore this weekend under the guidance of Guillermo Cienfuegos, whose unconventional minimalist staging of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” played to sellout audiences at PRT from February to July.
Stevenson says the inspiration for his comedy canon came from a real motel on Fried Meat Ridge Road in his native West Virginia, on a street that supposedly got its name during the Civil War.
“A convoy of wagons was traveling on this road and they got shelled. One of the wagons was the chuck wagon, so the whole ridge smelled like fried meat,” Stevenson said.
In creating his world, Stevenson birthed a hero for himself to play — JD, a “long-haired, very affable hillbilly of mysterious origins.”
Of course, other odd characters enter the story — an artistically inclined drug addict, her gangster-poet boyfriend and a creepy fetishist among them — but it’s these offbeat souls that create the almost absurdist comedy that has lifted the plays to a cult-like status.
When the first play, “Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road,” premiered it was scheduled for a three-week run. That turned into a six-month run and led Stevenson to win the LA STAGE Alliance’s Ovation Award for Best Playwriting for an Original Play. The second and third plays followed with similar success.
While Stevenson describes his style of comedy as “farce meets magical realism,” others have called it “white trash comedy” — a label Stevenson rejects.
“I resent that. I think the plays are a bit smarter than that. First of all, I don’t believe in ‘white trash’; I believe in people. So for me to call these characters white trash would be to call my own brothers and sisters from my home state white trash, which I won’t do,” Stevenson said.
Whatever you call it, Westside audiences can’t seem to get enough.
“It’s not uncommon for people to come back three or four times,” Stevenson said. “One guy, Ryan Smith, came to see the original play 50 times. Another lady came back 30-something times, and it’s because of the funny characters. I’ve even had friends come up to me after seeing the show and, even if I’ve known them for years, they say, ‘Can you just be JD for a little bit?’ They’d rather hang out with JD than me.”
“Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road” super-fan Ryan Smith said the play lifted his spirits.
“I was in a bad place when I first saw ‘Fried Meat.’ My mother had passed away the year before and I wasn’t dealing with the loss very well. I was down and depressed, but ‘Fried Meat’ took all that away,” Smith said. “I could relate to all the characters in the play, specifically their faults and frailties. On top of that, it was hilarious!”
Stevenson embraces the obsessive nature of his fans.
“If people want to be part of the Fried Meat family, we just welcome them in,” he said.
So what’s it like to be a part that genealogy?
“It feels like being a part of any family that loves you and makes you feel like the best parts of yourself,” Smith said. “It just so happens that my ‘family’ consists of a meth addict, her criminal boyfriend, a curmudgeon who hates Maryland, a nice young man named Mitchell and God’s grandson.”
Stevenson’s “A Fried Meat Christmas” runs at 8 p.m. Friday and at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. The Sunday staging is followed at 4:30 p.m. by the original “Out There on Fried Mean Ridge Road” and at 6 p.m. by “The Unfryable Meatness of Being.” Tickets are $20 to see one play, $30 for two of the Sunday shows or $40 for the full Sunday tripleheader. Call (310) 822-8392 or visit pacificresidenttheatre.com.