"Art Imitating Life" Coming Alive

Catchphrases are used so often that sometimes their genesis gets lost or they become just a cliche. But sometimes the catchphrase's meaning comes alive and is even transformed through new events.

One such catchphrase is "art imitating life." But what happens when art not only imitates life but then that life again imitates art? There is a perfect and uplifting example of this alchemy in the new play Cul de Sac being presented from June 3 to 12 by Encore Stage & Studio (Encore)("Theater by Kids for Kids!").

This production captures the heart of what is conveyed by "art imitating life imitating art" on multiple levels.

The name Cul de Sac will likely resonate for many people. It's the name of acclaimed cartoonist Richard Thompson's nationally syndicated strip that ran for over five years in 150 newspapers. Cul de Sac debuted in 2007 in The Washington Post Magazine. The "art imitating life" comes from Mr. Thompson's inspiration for the stories. He drew on incidents from his own childhood as well as those of his family's daily suburban life in Arlington, Virginia where they've lived since 1992. In fact, the strip's family name -- Otterloop--reflects Mr. Thompson's whimsy as it's a play on the ubiquitous Outer Loop of the Beltway.

His cartoonist colleagues honored Mr. Thompson in 2010 with the Reuben Award, the highest honor given by the National Cartoonists Society. His talents were praised from colleagues such as Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes), Pete Docter (Pixar director of films including Inside Out), and Mo Willems (author of children's books including Knuffle Bunny).

Sadly, Mr. Thompson was compelled to retire and cease creating new strips in September 2012, three years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. It seemed as if his loving, truthful and hilarious views on suburban life would live on only as treasured memories by his many fans.

And now for the magical alchemy when "art imitating life" becomes "art imitating life imitating art."

Over the years, Mr. Thompson has received and turned down numerous requests from other writers who wanted to adapt his strip for the stage. The only writer whom he had encouraged to do so was his wife Amy. In a marvelous convergence, Ms. Thompson has been associated with Encore for many years as a drama teacher and director.

Encore approached Ms. Thompson to see if she'd be interested in writing an original play for them as part of the 2015 DC Women's Voices Theater Festival. Agreeing to do so, she drew on a world she loves and knows so well --- she has brought the comic strip world of the Otterloops to life in Cul de Sac, the play. Encore moved the play's debut to the close of its 2015-2016 season.

The play follows four year old Alice Otterloop and her older brother, 8-year-old Petey as they learn about friendship and the importance of being yourself. With the help of their parents, teachers, old and new friends, Alice and Petey just might be able to learn something from each other as well.

Mr. Thompson brought joy to countless readers through Cul de Sac. Now Ms. Thompson and Encore are helping bring that joy in a new three-dimensional form to new and old fans of all ages. It is so fitting that the Otterloops home town will be the debut venue for their new incarnation. And as part of giving back to Mr. Thompson, Encore will be holding a special fundraiser for the Michael J. Fox Foundation to support Parkinson's Disease research.

Cul de Sac will be presented at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater located at 125 South Old Glebe Road, Arlington, Virginia. Information about performance times and the fundraiser can be found on their website (www.encorestageva.org).