Why does a taxi cab confessional work? In a ride across town, for some reason, the human mind finds safety in often opening up to someone they may never see again. For D. Paul Thomas, those people are the inspiration for his one-man Indy Fringe play Überview from the Heartland.
Thomas, a native Hoosier, cut his teeth as an actor, director and playwright in New York and LA before coming back home to Indiana four years ago. He has written over seven one-person shows, worked on Long Day’s Journey Into Night which showed at the Kennedy Center and wrote a play about Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempting an assassination of Hitler. That show was an Off Broadway piece that received some good reviews but a negative one from The New York Times.
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But for Thomas the power of humanity is the human story. Something he’s focusing nearly all of his time on now. Currently he is meeting with a group of employees from Wal-Mart and writing a play (working title is Welcome to Wal-Mart).
“I am really examining the whole corporate dynamic and what I view as so frequent, the exploitation of the workers,” says Thomas.
Now back in Indiana for his family, Thomas picks up occasional gigs as a playwright and voice actor, but for the day-to-day, Thomas drives an Uber.
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“As a playwright I would come back from driving and take copious notes on the passengers who were fascinating, humorous, or dramatic,” says Thomas.
He began writing down the conversations, altering the names and giving a Humans of New York-type glimpse into everyday people’s lives around Indy. Several of the pieces he wrote from behind the wheel of his Uber car were first published in NUVO. (One of the stories is excerpted to the left.) Thomas’ show is very bare bones: him sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage reading and acting out parts of his interactions — including nine months of the more raw conversations that he has had.
“There is just something that takes place in the intimate confines of a car or a cab where people will sort of spill their guts, they are just talking, particularly if they are a little lubricated,” says Thomas.
“I think there is a sort of anonymity that you will never see each other again,” says Thomas. “Our paths will never cross.”
One thing he will do in the show is ask the audience to rate the “passengers” the way that Uber drivers do in real life. (Mind your Ps and Qs or you might get kicked to Lyft.) If their rating matches the one that he gave the real passenger, they get a free ride from him to anywhere in Indy.
Thomas has made sure to change the rider’s names for their protection.
“I think with the change of names … I think everything is done — and certainly it is my hope that everything is done — in a favorable light or a good spirit,” says Thomas.
He has also conducted interviews in the car for a potential radio show that he may develop. He was surprised at how many people were open and agreed to be interviewed. For him the stories he hears are a way to process through the narratives of everyone he encounters each day.
“I feel like I am just learning enough now to write plays,” says Thomas. “… It has taken me a long time to appreciate just how special theater is and the structure and the narrative dynamics that can take place on stage … Stories have a way of helping me make things flesh and blood and bone.”