For as often as artists tell stories of connection and growth, it can be surprisingly difficult to find stories about adult male friendship.
Fortunately for South Bay arts lovers, one playwright and his two actors looked to bring the story of two male friends to the stage, taking over five years to develop the story to be as true to their own lives and experiences as possible.
This Thursday, Waiting for Next premieres for a four-week run at San Jose’s City Lights Theater. Written by Campbell-based playwright Jeffrey Lo, the play tells the story of Frank (Wes Gabrillo) and Marcus (Max Tachis), two 12-year-olds who meet in their school’s parking lot and journey through an amalgamation of childhood and adulthood experiences together as they grow up, grow apart and grow together again.
Lo—who most recently directed the acclaimed Vietgone, also at City Lights—says the play originally began as a one-act performance back in late 2016, with actors Gabrillo and Tachis just beginning to join in the story.
“The impetus to write this play was really based on [Wes and Max], who are two of my favorite collaborators and closest friends,” he says. Just thinking about them he laughs, adding that it was “a great excuse to hang out” with the actors over the last few years.
Over the course of its five-year development, Lo says the play became about male friendship, the human capacity to pick one another up and fatherhood. During that time, each man experienced a variety of life’s great joys—from engagements to marriage to home ownership—and Lo wanted to represent them in the play itself.
“We found the themes in the play as we were going,” he says. “The big pattern of the play was really thinking about how, so often in our lives, we’re waiting for our lives to start, and while we’re waiting, our lives are happening.”
Gabrillo had been college classmates with Lo while attending UC Irvine. He says he was excited to join his old friend (along with Tachis, who he had not worked with before) in the play when it was originally introduced as a short one-act in 2016. Now, years later, he acknowledges how much the three have bonded over the story and how their own lives have become intertwined with the performance.
“Getting to really tell this feat in a full-fledged production, it’s been invigorating and enriching to thread all of these stories together,” he says. “It’s been really quite the journey, with so many changes and so many collaborative aspects.”
Gabrillo also expressed gratitude to Lo for allowing him and Tachis to play within the work, allowing all three to evaluate what worked best for the show.
“It’s aligned with a lot of things as the three of us have grown…it’s been great to tell these types of stories that are so full of heart and universal themes that [audiences] can pull so much from,” he says.
Tachis, who first met Lo in 2014, says he appreciates how Lo writes his work to be more conversational and personable, making him that much more invested in working together.
“We came to collaborating because we really spoke that similar language as artists,” he says.
Given the play’s lengthy development, Tachis says the three had time to narrow down what they wanted to present onstage over time, while enjoying and settling into one another’s company.
“The three of us just collaborate really well together. We really leave space for each other to explore and go on that natural ride together,” he says. “[With] all of those personal experiences we’ve had, we can shape the play in new ways to a more universal and realistic experience.”
Waiting for Next was originally scheduled to run in September 2021, but was pushed back due to another reality of life: both Gabrillo and Tachis were expectant fathers.
“I was so appreciative of all of the people that were able to rearrange and work with us, to make sure we could do this play in a way that would work for them,” Lo says. “The older we get, the more rich the text gets…we wanted to make sure we told the story the right way.”
Waiting For Next
Opens Sat, 8pm, $47+
City Lights Theater, San Jose