Moorestown playwright Alex Wilkie presents his original comedy Heathens on the Beach on Friday, April 28, Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30, at the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township.
“This play got started because a friend of mine – a schoolteacher up in Pennsylvania – she was looking for a play… She likes to do historical plays with her kids and teach them a little bit about history,” Wilkie said.
Heathens on the Beach, directed by Lori Aleixo-Howard and set in 794 A.D., takes place during the darkest days of the Middle Ages as the sheltered life of the nuns of Piddlewick Abbey gets upended by the news that Vikings have attacked a nearby monastery. The surviving monks retreat to the nunnery, and while the nuns are terrified, they are determined not to abandon their beloved home without a fight.
Heathens on the Beach was originally produced for sixth grade students, but Wilkie knew that more could be done with the characters, so he extended the play from 45 pages to 100 pages. Since he started working with Aleixo-Howard and the cast and crew, he’s enjoyed seeing how everyone has taken to his work.
“I think what’s fun for me as a playwright to give, especially the director – Lori Aleixo-Howard – I’ve never worked with her before, so it was fun to give my play to her, and for her to put a fresh pair of eyes on it and to see what her vision is for it,” Wilkie said.
“All the actors in this production are putting their own take on the characters, and expanding what I thought the characters might look like or sound like,” Wilkie continued. “Since it’s a comedy we’re always looking to make things funnier, so they can bring their talents to make various parts funnier or expand the character in a way that I hadn’t thought about before.”
Wilkie has been writing plays since 1995 and his works have been produced throughout the United States. Past productions include the two-act comedy Spy House, which received full production at the Ritz Theatre Company in 2018; the full-length comedy Vaudeville Villains at the Sketch Club of Woodbury in 2019; and Big Bear Lake, which was staged during the Heartland Theatre Company’s 10-Minute Play Festival in Normal, Ill., in June of last year.
His 10-minute play Sandwich Heroes is slated for production in May as part of the Diner Theater program for the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation. Wilkie is a Moorestown resident and has always been involved in theater.
“There’s a really strong, thriving, energetic theater community here in Moorestown which I think some people take for granted, but it’s kind of rare.”
Wilkie got his start as a playwright from commuting to New York for work, where he would write on the bus. Most of his plays come from historical incidents or facts that he finds interesting.
“There’s so many hardships and difficulties in the world right now, that I just hope people will have a good time,” Wilkie said of what he would like for audiences to experience during the show, and he shared what came to mind of the play’s characters during the writing process.
“ … There’s a lot of things that hadn’t even happened in our society at that point, and yet these people are dealing with very real threats and very real problems, and yet they get through,” he said. “It’s nice to think that these people had what they thought were insurmountable difficulties and problems in their time, but they got through and civilization moved on.”
Visit https://ritztheatreco.org/heathens-on-the-beach/ for more information on Heathens on the Beach.