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Hands On A Hardbody Playwright's Note

Americans thrive on competition; it's innate in our character.  Every summer in Spivey's Corner, North Carolina, they hold the National Hollerin' Contest.  On Independence Day, Coney Islan plays host to Nathan's Famous hot dog eating challenge.  Lawn Mower Racing is an established sport in the south, and the annual Redneck Games in Georgia feature hubcap hurling, toilet seat tosses and mud-pit belly flopping.  

In the mid-1990s, documentarian S. R. Bindler captured the Hands on a Hardbody competition in Longview Texas.  In it, contestants place their hands on a new Nissan "Hardbody" pickup truck; the entrant who could stand the longest without removing his or her hand from the vehicle won it.  The contest garnered international exposure and launched a host of similar promotions across the country.  Filmmaker Bindler's achievement lies in his ability to push past the kitschy, absurd premise of the event and hit on deeper truths about the duality of the American Dream.  On one hand, anyone with skill and perseverance can triumph but beneath that bright promise lies a darker one: Darwin's cruel truth about the survival of the fittest.

Amanda Green, Trey Anastasio, and I felt the film was ripe for theatrical adaptation.  We believe it's more relevant today than it was upon its release; our recent economic tumult has brought age-old fissures of race, class, and income inequality to the fore.  The truck brings disparate individuals together, who would otherwise never meet, to confront their issues with a startling directness.  Implicit in the contest is the American myth of mobility, embodied by an automobile.  The truck offers plenty of metaphors; for one contestant it's a new lease on life; for another, it's his manhood; for a third, it's her religious faith. 

For me, the show is a chance to explore my roots in a state that's simultaneously maddening and exhilarating, punch-drunk on its own rich mythology, tongue-in-cheek braggadocio, abundant good humor and boundless sky.  For Amanda and Trey, it's an opportunity to forge a score inspired by doggedly individualistic, real-life people and musical idioms from country ballads to southern rock, Americana, swampy funk, gospel and delta blues.   We wrote the play in venues across the nation: a writer's retreat in Wyoming, a barn in Vermont and Interstate 20 between Dallas and Shreveport.  It all culminated in a premiere run at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse in the summer of 2012.  It's been a joyous enterprise, and now we're on Broadway.  It's our portrait of America; we hope it strikes a chord. 

-Doug Wright

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