My Play “The Turkey Men” Is a Hit!

Well, it’s happened!  “The Turkey Men” has opened and the reviews are in.  The biggest one is from the Columbus Dispatch, and it is reprinted below.  Other online reviews are similar.  

On Facebook playwright Jonathan Hole said:

Last night, the first preview of The Turkey Men by Douglas Whaley at Evolution Theatre Company- it is fantastic in every sense of the word- when I first heard the premise I thought "how is that going to work?" and last night learned the answer- beautifully. I love stories that connect the past and present and Douglas has written a unique one that made the audience last night cheer. Director David David Allen Vargo and a terrific cast,Loretta Beth Cannon, Fia Friend, James HarperJonathan Putnam, and Ross Shirley are a playwright's dream. Leaving last night I said hello to someone and without missing a beat they responded "what a great show!" and I wholeheartedly agree. 

On October 17th Sheldon Gleisser posted this:

Saw Evolution Theatre's production of "The Turkey Men" last night.

"The Turkey Men" is an original work by local playwright Douglas Whaley. It's about a young woman, Logan Hendricks (Fia Friend) taken against her will (with her parent's consent!) to an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. There, a couple of Christian "de-programmers," Micah and Bethany (Jonathan Putnam and Lori Cannon) attempt to turn her same-sex attraction to sanctified heterosexuality.

But the farmhouse is not entirely uninhabited. Alex and Webster (Ross Shirley and James Harper), two gay men in a very committed relationship, have been there for quite some time. I mean like, since the Civil War? They aren't ghosts, at least not exactly, but they do haunt the place very much, and not in a nice way, at least not for Micah and Bethany.

As Alex and Webster, Ross Shirley and James Harper are as easy and comfortable with each other as a pair of old shoes. They have our sympathies right from the get-go with their wry senses of humor and obvious ease with one another, both amazed at those new-fangled electric lights.

As Logan, Fia Friend is at once sympathetic, as befits someone who spends most of the story tied, chained, and shock-collared. She grows more endearing as the story goes on, showing both spunk and vulnerability, the lesbian daughter you wish you had.

It's possible that the most difficult roles go to Jonathan Putnam and Loretta Beth Cannon as the Christan de-programmers. They should be just about completely unsympathetic, but both Putnam and Cannon are able to mine the characters for their rather frightening humanity. What kind of person does what they're doing? Abused children grown up, is playwright Whaley's answer.

Director David Allen Vargo keeps things moving at a brisk pace but gives all of his actors lots of room to breathe. I had a film teacher who once told me "If you want to act, you don't necessarily need to direct, but if you want to direct, you HAVE to do some acting, it doesn't matter if you play the third spear carrier from the left, get out there and get some parts."

I don't know if this is the first play Mr. Vargo has directed, but he has proven my film teacher correct, even while playing much more than the third spear carrier from the left. Vargo's many onstage roles include those in "Chappati," "Sordid Lives," and a memorable turn as Charles Dickens at Red Herring Theater. All that acting has given him a very sure hand as a director. I hope to see more directing work from him in the future.

Kat Wexler's set design is beautifully and suitably shabby and Michael Bynes' set construction is excellent. Caroline Dittamo's lighting design, and Sue Rapier's sound, both of which include a certain amount of special effects, greatly contributes to the play's cheerful other-worldliness.

It occurred to me while driving home that "The Turkey Men" may be about a child caught in a tug of war between two competing sets of parents, one accepting and the other not. The first and best set harkens back to some truly bad old days for minority rights. Despite this, Alex and Webster have managed, in their way, to both survive and thrive.

The other set of parents is more troubling, because they were born at an arguably better time. Given the right set of circumstances--and a little more toleration both internal and external--Micah and Bethany might have found at least enough happiness to keep from exporting their misery to others.

"The Turkey Men" lies somewhere between "Topper" and the work of the late Larry Shue ("The Foreignor," "The Nerd"). It is playing from October 17-26 at the Columbus Peforming Arts Center's Van Fleet Theater. I say saw off that shock collar and check it out!

Here is what the Columbus Dispatch put online:

Theater review | ‘The Turkey Men:’ Supernatural drama offers enough intrigue and nifty effects to become a hit

By Michael Grossberg For The Columbus Dispatch

Two blithe spirits come to endearing life in “The Turkey Men,” a clever new haunted-house tale informed and inspired by gay history and American progress.

Evolution Theatre Company is ending its 2019 season on a felicitous and ingenious note with the well-cast, well-paced world premiere, which opened Friday at the Columbus Performing Arts Center.

Columbus playwright Douglas Whaley blends supernatural drama, romance, tragedy and even bits of comedy, music and science fiction in his entertaining play.

A lot of exposition is required to set up the scenario, but Whaley and director David Allen Vargo weave it in pretty well amid engaging characterizations that help make the explanations more plausible.

One can’t easily summarize the somewhat contrived premise of the plot, nor should later twists be revealed without undermining the nominal amount of suspense in what’s ultimately a predictable morality play within a more-satisfying romantic drama.

Suffice to say that the story, set in 2016 in the dilapidated farmhouse of an abandoned turkey farm, revolves around two ex-soldiers from the Civil War era, now largely ghosts who face a difficult decision when three unexpected visitors arrive: a frightened lesbian teenager and an older man and woman who seemingly have kidnapped her but actually have taken her at the request of her concerned parents.

The turkey men, still reveling in what must be the longest sustained gay relationship imaginable, want to help the girl after witnessing her treatment by the religious fundamentalists, who seem hell-bent to “pray away the gay.“

Vargo’s strong direction bolstered fine performances by the five-member cast at Wednesday’s preview.

Yet, two performances are pivotal in defining the emotional core of the story: the admirable relationship between Webster Randolph Carter III, a Tennessee country boy whipped to near-death as an adolescent by his father when discovered with another guy; and Alexander Small, Northerner who met Web when he became a military prisoner during the Civil War.

James Harper brings an old-fashioned masculinity alloyed with tenderness and a stoic code of reserve to Web, while Ross Shirley adds courtly charm, good humor and intuition to empathetic Alexander.

Together, Harper and Shirley forge a rich chemistry and intimacy that beautifully evoke their characters’ storied history.

The actors ground their roles further in a bygone era by speaking in rich regional accents with faintly anachronistic rhythms that implicitly unite their shared sensibilities as 19th-century gentlemen of honor.

Fia Friend is convincingly contemporary as questioning teenager Logan Hendricks, betrayed by her parents but confident of her newfound sexuality. As the poor abused Cinderella to the gay couple’s veritable fairy godfathers, Friend projects the requisite distress and hesitancy without veering into melodrama.

The two trickiest roles are underwritten, but veteran central Ohio actors Lori Cannon and Jonathan Putnam deepen what might in lesser hands come across as one-dimensional villainy.
As devout but misguided Christians Bethany and Micah, Cannon and Putnam gradually expose psyches damaged by a painful history of repression and abuse.

Ironically, and part of Whaley’s editorial theme, the 170-year-old couple turn out to be far more modern and enlightened than the 2016 couple, who might have been more plausible if placed within the 1950s.

Regarding the more ghostly manifestations and revelations of this nifty production, perhaps it’s better to adopt a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Yet, with its supernatural aspects brought out effectively by Caroline Dittamo’s shifting lighting and Vargo’s sound design on Kat Wexler’s antique haunted-house set, this deft production seems ripe with potential to become a Halloween-season hit.

My husband, David Allen Vargo, who directed the show, and I were interviewed on WOSU NPR broadcast about the play.  That interview can be found at

[Click to enlarge]

Happily, Facebook has spread the word about the show and already there have been preliminary nibbles about possible productions in Florida and Indiana.  Anyone who has connections in their city with a theater that might be interested can contact me at

This is all very overwhelming to David and myself  We can be counted as among the happiest people on the earth.  Many thanks to Evolution Theatre (and particularly Mark Phillip Schwamberger, the Artistic Director), the talented cast and crew, and the wonderful audiences.  There are three more performance this coming Thursday, Friday, and Saturday;  information at

The Cast and Crew


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