New Ken Ludwig Comedy, 'Be My Baby,' at Willows Theatre

By Pat Craig
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 02/06/2009 01:00:00 AM PST

Playwright Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon Over Buffalo," "Crazy for You") found himself sitting next to Hal Holbrook at lunch one day in Houston and dropped the comment that he'd just written a play that would be perfect for the actor.

"But I guess you hear that all the time," Ludwig said to his lunch partner, who, like Ludwig, was guest of honor at a gala thrown at Houston's Alley Theatre. "It's about a Scotsman, a distinguished, good-looking man in his 60s who has been around the block in life and has seen a lot. It would be ideal casting."

Holbrook asked Ludwig to send him a copy of the script, and within days returned to his Washington, D.C., home to find a message from the actor saying he loved the play, wanted to do it immediately, and wouldn't Holbrook's wife, Dixie Carter, be perfect as the Englishwoman?

Ludwig called the artistic director at the Alley Theatre to tell him about the phone message and subsequent conversation with Holbrook, and arranged to have the show wedged into the theater company's schedule.

Three years later — mere moments in theater time — Concord's Willows Theatre is staging the West Coast premiere of "Be My Baby," which centers around a grouchy Scotsman and an uptight Englishwoman brought together by a transatlantic adoption journey.

The Scotsman's ward has married her niece, and the older folks are enlisted to head to California to pick up the niece's
baby and deliver it home to Scotland. The problem is the two people hate each other instantly and, to create more problems, they get stranded in San Francisco.

Most of the play unfolds in San Francisco in the pre-flower-power era, so the music has a lot of Elvis Presley. But the two travelers find the city exotic, says Ludwig, who admits he knows little about San Francisco.

He is an East Coast fellow.

"I grew up in the Amish country of Pennsylvania," says Ludwig, whose career has included a good number of shows that have theatrical settings, unlike "Be My Baby." "Growing up, I always idolized and romanticized the notion of the theater. I read all the theater books and saw all the old movies."

Theater, in many ways, can be used as a metaphor for life in general, he says. He wanted to be an actor, but ended up in law school first, finishing with law degrees from Harvard Law School and Cambridge University. He also studied music at Harvard and theater history at Cambridge before beginning a law practice. He's written more than a dozen plays.

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