Prospective renters might get frustrated searching for an affordable apartment in New York City. But after his experience years ago, Al Meglin was inspired to do what comes naturally to him: He wrote a play about it.
The Malverne playwright recalled the time about 30 years ago when he and his wife, Pat, were working for companies across the street from one another in Manhattan. Rather than commute from Long Island into the city all week long, they decided to get a studio apartment where they would stay during the week, and return home on weekends.
"That's not an easy task. You run into all kind of hotshot real estate people who try and convince you to buy totally inappropriate apartments," says Meglin, 87. Now that adventure is recounted, with some altering of the facts to enhance the humor in the situation, in his one-act play "East Village Vignette: An Improbable Romance."
The play, about a finicky flutist out to beat a demon real estate agent at her own game, is featured in the Metropolitan Playhouse's East Side Stories, a festival of one-act plays about life on the Lower East Side that runs through May 3.
"It's just a charming play with a nice generational conflict and a crisis that are dealt with in a comic way," says Alex Roe, artistic director of Metropolitan Playhouse. "The characters have quirks that are both recognizable and amusing."
A natural-born writer
Writing has always been part of Meglin's DNA, ever since he was a youngster growing up in Brooklyn. "Some people breathe; I write," he says.
In elementary school and junior high, teachers always encouraged Meglin to write, he says. At Erasmus Hall High School, he wrote stories for the school magazine. He didn't initially carve out a career for himself as a wordsmith. When he enrolled at City College of New York, he decided to major in education. College was interrupted by Army service during World War II; he was drafted on Aug. 9, 1945 -- VJ Day -- and served as part of an intelligence school cadre in southern Germany, where he ran the newspaper at a military base.
When he came back from overseas, Meglin completed his education and began working as an English teacher at Jamaica High School, where he supervised the school's student newspaper. Seeking a creative outlet, Meglin enrolled in an adult education course called "Writing for Television" at a Valley Stream high school. The cost was $10. "The teacher was wonderful and said, 'If you guys write anything that I think is worthwhile, I will submit it to my agent and see what happens,' " Meglin recalls.
The script Meglin came up with was titled "The Girl From Boro Park," which was set in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. It was the story of a young woman who finds a soul mate to help her sort out personal difficulties in her life. The teacher made good on his word, and in 1956 his agent sold it to "Matinee Theater," a drama anthology series that aired weekdays on NBC.
"With that kind of encouragement, I said to myself, 'Wow, I must be God's gift to the writing world. It turns out I wasn't because I didn't sell the next couple of plays. But the impetus was there. If the very first piece of writing you ever do in your life sells to network television, it has to mean something," Meglin says.
With a plethora of anthology series on television in the 1950s and '60s, Meglin continued to submit his teleplays, several of which also got picked up. "The Inner Panic," about a man with a speech impediment who finds confidence and romance after getting a job in a company's mailroom, aired on "The United States Steel Hour" in 1962. He also wrote a 1964 episode of the hospital drama "The Doctors and the Nurses."
Meglin always knew he couldn't rely on writing as the sole support of his wife and four children. "I never gave up a day job because to me the two most frightening words in the English language are 'free lance,' " says Meglin, who was married for 57 years and has been a widower for 10.
He quit teaching after a few years for a more lucrative career selling newspaper advertising. He retired in 1987 after suffering a stroke, though by the following year he had made a full recovery. Even while working, he never abandoned writing. He continued to pen plays in addition to teaching an evening course in writing at Hofstra University in the late 1970s and early '80s.
Over the years, Meglin says, he has had about 25 of his plays -- mostly one-acts -- produced. "I've had remarkable luck Off-Broadway," he says.
Finding an audience
Meglin's avenue for getting his plays seen has been entering contests sponsored by various theatrical publishing groups, including Stageplays Theatre Company and Samuel French Inc. "The Visiting Room," his submission for French's one-act play festival in 1997, was named a critic's choice. The drama was based on visits to the nursing home where his mother-in-law lived.
"You see many different dynamics among families that take place at a visiting room in a nursing home on a Sunday afternoon," Meglin says.
Personal experiences have always formed the backbone of Meglin's plays, he says. "I don't know how else it's done."
One of his favorite short plays is "Two Old Men Talking in a McDonald's," which has been presented on stage in 2001 by the Episcopal Actors' Guild and starred Tony-winning actor Barnard Hughes ("Da"). It was also done on PATV, a public-access cable station based in Lake Success, in 2003. "I saw these two guys in a McDonald's. One of them had a smartphone and was trying to explain it to another man sitting there trying to eat his breakfast," Meglin says. "I could see that the guy sitting there had absolutely no interest whatsoever in this thing. . . . That play has had so many presentations over the years, so I guess it struck a nerve."
One of those people who was struck by Meglin's work was Roe, who had met Meglin and read one of his plays, though Roe says he hadn't seen one performed. He contacted Meglin about this year's East Side Stories festival and spoke to him about a submission.
When months passed and Meglin still hadn't heard from Roe, he figured that was that. And then he got the call that the festival wanted to do his "East Village Vignette."
"It really captures the spirit of the neighborhood," Roe says. "He did a wonderful job of showing how aspiring artists come to the Village and exploring their personalities."
Meglin, who has had two volumes of his one-act plays published by Stageplays, says he's not working on a new play right now, though he is penning a memoir. Still, he never knows when inspiration for a play will strike. "I've observed people in a subway and thought that was a good idea for a play," he says. "I don't know if I have followed the writing career or the writing career has followed me. But if I live another 20 years, I will probably have written another 20 plays."
"East Village Vignette: An Improbable Romance"
Al Meglin's one-act comedy about finding a studio apartment in Manhattan is one of four short "Real Estate" plays in Metropolitan Playhouse's East Side Stories festival.
WHEN | WHERE April 26 at 1 p.m.; May 1 and 3 at 7 p.m.; Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 E. Fourth St., Manhattan
INFO $20.99 adults, $10.99 ages 17 and younger, $15.99 college students and ages 65 and older; 800-838-3006, metropolitanplayhouse.org