April 11 2012 12:00 AM

In Lansing Civic Players' 'Vino Veritas,' a weird Peruvian wine leads to shocking revelations


Artists will tell you inspiration can strike in unlikely places. For playwright “Vino Veritas” playwright David MacGregor, it happened on a golf course.

He was on the links with an old friend. “We go about once a year,” said MacGregor, in a phone interview from his home in Hartland Township. “We’re not really there to golf, just to yap at each other.”

Another man came up to MacGregor and his friend and said, “I’m a single. Can I join you?” MacGregor’s friend waved the guy away, telling him that they were in the midst of a “private talk.” In fact, they weren’t, but MacGregor’s friend knew the presence of a stranger would mean that the friends would have to tone down their conversation and censor themselves.

Cue the Muse.

“On the basis of that, I wrote a short play, ’18 Holes,’ which was 18 separate conversational snippets in 18 minutes,” MacGregor said. “No plot, no antagonist, just two people talking openly and honestly to each other.” The strong response to “18 Holes” from audiences prompted MacGregor to write “Vino Veritas,” which had its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre in 2008, where MacGregor is a resident artist.

The Lansing Civic Players’ production opens Thursday. It stars Amanda Devlin Knowlton, Christian Powell, John Roche and Abbie Tykocki; Tony Sump is the director.

MacGregor’s other plays include “The Late Great Henry Boyle,” “Gravity” and “Consider the Oyster,” all of which were produced at Purple Rose.    

In “Vino,” two couples meet up on Halloween night to enjoy a South American tribal libation made from the skin of blue dart tree frogs that gives the evening an unexpected kick.

 “This bizarre Peruvian wine they drink has truth-telling qualities, of course, like all alcohol — that’s where the phrase comes from. Three of them drink it, one doesn’t. Things start off amusingly, and then get darker as the play goes on.”

“Vino” was a box office success at Purple Rose and has gone on to be produced across the nation. “For whatever reason, it strikes a chord with people,” MacGregor said. “One of the women who came to see it at Purple Rose said to me, ‘It’s almost as if you’re standing outside our living room window. How do you know what’s going on in there?’ I think it’s kind of liberating and cathartic to realize there are some other people who think the same things you do.”

MacGregor relates to the idea of getting in touch with primal emotions. He recalled taking his then-1-year-old son to a park, where the boy tried to play with 3-year-old twins. “One of these kids knocked him down and the other punched him in the face. And at that moment, I was going to kill those two kids, and I’m not talking figuratively. I was shaking with anger. That’s the Mommy Crocodile response: ‘That’s my kid!’ It’s in all of us, and you can delude or kid yourself — ‘Oh, I’m not like that’ — but you are like that.”

When he graduated from Michigan State University in 1981, MacGregor wanted to pursue a screenwriting career, but family obligations kept him from moving to Los Angeles. However, he did write the screenplay for the film adaptation of “Vino,” which is in post-production.

“I just got the rough cut in the mail from the director yesterday,” MacGregor said.

He neglected to mention if he was opening a bottle of Peruvian blue tree frog wine to celebrate.

‘Vino Veritas’

April 12-21

Lansing Civic Players

Curry Lane Theatre

6025 Curry Lane, Lansing

8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays

Thursday prices: $10 adults, $8 students, seniors and military Friday, Saturday, Sunday prices: $14 adults, $12 students, seniors and military

(888) 419-5458