Almost 10 years ago, local playwright Brian Walker debuted “Dirty Sexy Derby Play,” a story about four married couples at a key party, set just after the 1974 tornado that ripped through Louisville. It was incredibly popular and has been restaged four times since its premiere, with sold-out houses every time.
Now, Walker is debuting a sequel — “The Last Party” — at The Bard’s Town this week, and Insider caught up with the playwright to talk about revisiting his characters, finding new pieces of himself and over-the-top sex humor.
Walker’s early work often was defined by a love affair with taboo subjects and outre humor. “Dirty Sexy Derby Play” was no different, and Walker suggests it had something to do with its success.
“I think it’s escapism, I think it’s funny, I think it’s a good time. It’s naughty,” he says. Of course, the link to Louisville’s favorite sporting event doesn’t hurt, either. “Everybody loves Derby, so I think that has something to do with it.”
“The Last Party” is being brought to the stage by Finnigan Productions, the company Walker built, which for several years showcased his and other local plays, with an occasional dip into other material Walker found interesting.
But the reason this play exists is because of a commission from Andy Epstein, a member of the Louisville theater community who wanted to know what happened to these characters next.
Despite it being someone else’s idea, Walker says he’s been pleased with the process.
“Once I was given the challenge to do it, I really loved it and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought to do it on my own,” he says.
The process of writing characters is deeply personal for Walker. “A lot of times I feel like each character is a little piece of me in some way, shape or form,” he adds.
For that reason, writing “The Last Party” involved some personal reflection for the older, wiser Walker. “I remembered what piece of myself they were evoking 10 years ago and how those pieces of myself have grown and evolved.”
“The Last Party” brings together all the characters from “Dirty Sexy Derby Play.”
“The first play kind of broke all the pieces and shattered everything, and now this play is sort of about mending it all,” he says.
While this play has no tornado, it does take on a different disaster. At the end of “Dirty Sexy Derby Play,” one of the characters comes out of the closet, much to the dismay of his wife. Ten years later, that character, Victor, is dying of a mysterious illness, which at the time was often called “the gay cancer.”
Walker talks about tackling the subject of AIDS in his work.
“History is something we always need to talk about,” he says. “There are a lot of things around now that weren’t in ’84 that keep people alive longer … but it’s still there, we still have AIDS, and in underdeveloped parts of the country, it’s still killing people every single day.”
The characters are almost all played by actors who have been in previous incarnations of the play. Epstein, who commissioned the play, is reprising his role as Victor, which he played in the second production. Some other actors are reprising roles, but many are taking on new characters. Regardless, the performers’ deep familiarity with the world of the play will no doubt add to what the audience sees on stage.
In Finnigan Productions’ early days, Walker often did double or even triple duty on plays, but he eventually walked away from portions of production to focus on playwriting.
“That’s initially why I walked away from directing. I can’t write, direct and produce all at the same time. I’m getting too old to do it,” says Walker.
But he has returned to the director’s chair for “The Last Party,” partially because it lined up perfectly with his schedule. And while Walker is a little less interested in the in-your-face taboo humor of his youth, you can still expect plenty of dirty jokes right alongside Walker’s fresh takes on his characters.
“I still enjoy sitting in the back of the theater and seeing someone’s face when they hear one of my lines,” he says. “And they’re like, ‘Oh my God,’ or ‘Oh, I can’t believe he did that — it’s so nasty!’”
You can celebrate the Derby season with Finnigan Productions’ “The Last Party” at The Bard’s Town, 1801 Bardstown Road. The show runs April 6-8, 12-15 and 19-22 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.