Homecoming Dance

Thom Thomas spent eight years writing his latest play, A Moon to Dance By, and now he’s finally home for its Pittsburgh premiere this month.



Fifty years ago, Thom Thomas stepped out onto the stage of the Hamlet Street Theatre in South Oakland. He was acting in a play called Teach Me How to Cry—his first acting gig. He was a 17-year-old kid from a small town—he’d grown up Thom Thomas, on Thomas Road, in Thomas, Pa., a tiny town in Washington County (the homogeneous names were coincidence). Later he spent a little time as an actor, manager and director at Little Lake Theatre near Canonsburg, but he had no idea what the future might hold.

Today, Thomas is 67 years old. He’s lived in New York City and now resides in Los Angeles. He’s a veteran TV writer and has a small library of screen- and teleplays (scripts for TV), but has now chosen to focus more on theater these days. This month, Thomas comes home to see his newest play, A Moon to Dance By, during its local premiere at the Pittsburgh Playhouse—the company that took over the old Hamlet Street Theatre site. After three decades in New York and California, Thomas has come full circle, and he’s right back where he started.

“I’m ecstatic, because [Pittsburgh]’s my hometown,” says Thomas. When he visited last year, he stood on one of the Playhouse stages and looked around. “Honestly, I got very emotional.”

A Moon to Dance By is also about reunions. The drama concerns Frieda Weekley, the eccentric wife of author D.H. Lawrence. History relates that Frieda was married and a mother of three when she met the young David Herbert Lawrence, who was then a student. Shortly after their meeting, Frieda left her home, her husband and even her children to be with her bohemian lover. After D.H. died in 1930, Frieda retired to their ranch in New Mexico. Then, in July 1939, Frieda’s son (from her previous husband) showed up at the ranch and stayed for four days. Although little is known of this historic meeting, the situation—widow and estranged son talking for the first time in years—inspired Thomas to fill in the blanks. He’s long adored D.H. Lawrence’s novels, and the incident seemed ripe for dramatization.

“The research took a long time,” Thomas recalls. The project started in 2000, and as he pored over Frieda’s letters, scenes and dialogue began to emerge. “I tried to get a handle on the voices of these people.” As a member of the Actors Studio, a membership workshop for working actors, Thomas would wrangle performers and ask them to perform scenes. He first held readings in two acclaimed New York theaters—Circle in the Square and the Actors Studio. A full-production showed in 2005 at the New Harmony Theatre in southern Indiana “to break the ice on it,” Thomas reports. Then, it was back to readings—this time at the theater Primary Stages in New York with the acclaimed actress Jane Alexander, winner of a Tony Award and nominee for four Academy Awards. But he wasn’t satisfied. “I knew there was something missing in the play, something I hadn’t tackled yet. I told the director [Edwin Sherin] that I just wanted to go away and rewrite it from page one. And he said, ‘Do it. You have the time.’ And what I came out with is, I think, a heck of a lot stronger play.”
Thomas has been a longtime friend of the Playhouse, and the staff has closely watched his play’s development. When the Playhouse offered to mount Moon, there was a long list of actresses other than Alexander up for consideration for the part of Frieda, but when Thomas saw her presenting at the Tony Awards, he knew she would be perfect for the role. Thomas remembers seeing her onstage in the 1967 world premiere of The Great White Hope, opposite James Earl Jones, and being awed by her abilities. “And now she’s going to be in my play!” he exclaims. “It’s just incredible.” Alexander shares the stage with Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli and Gareth Saxe.

When he lived in Pittsburgh, Thomas made a big splash before moving on. He attended the Pittsburgh Playhouse School of Theatre (now part of Point Park University) and Carnegie Mellon University. He taught at Point Park in the late-1960s and early-’70s, became head of the theater-arts department in 1976, and became artistic director for several local companies, including the Pittsburgh CLO. Soon after, he left Pittsburgh for a six-month stint in London and then moved to New York.

His TV career took off in 1981, when an L.A. colleague offered him $15,000 for three weeks’ worth of TV writing—and coincidentally, it was for a Pittsburgh-inspired police drama, “Hill Street Blues.” He hoped to move to L.A. for only those three weeks, but jobs kept coming his way, and soon New York became a thing of the past. Still, his love for live performance persevered. “I love writing for theater,” Thomas emphasizes, “because in theater the playwright’s word is the final word. When you write something for television, [studios] sometimes don’t even notify you when it’s going to air. And you don’t even recognize what you’ve written. But your name is still on there.”

Today, Thomas doesn’t have a lot of family left in the region, but he likes to visit every couple of years. Now that Thomas has settled into Los Angeles’ sunny environs, his return East is marred only by low temperatures. “I heard we were having rehearsals in New York in January and performances in Pittsburgh in February, and my eyes rolled back in my head,” he says with a laugh. “I thought, what a great time for weather!”

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

The recognition comes less than month before the release of Keaton's newest film, which is generating some early Oscar buzz.
Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

The course directs runners over taxiways usually reserved for incoming and departing planes.
Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.
Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Co-owned by Franco Harris, the W Bowl brings together players from across the Women’s Football Alliance in a fierce competition.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

After his first taste of big-league ball, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow is ready for his close-up.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

Michael Keaton to Receive Big Hollywood Honor

The recognition comes less than month before the release of Keaton's newest film, which is generating some early Oscar buzz.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

The new, larger location in Squirrel Hill features an expanded selection of handcrafted merchandise.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments