Len Matheo, the executive director of Miners Alley Playhouse, gave actor-director-playwright Josh Hartwell a commission late last year. “He said he’s heard about this Mae Brussell and thought she’d make a good play,” Hartwell recalls. And she made a good play fast: Hartwell managed to write Queen of Conspiracy in just two weeks, at the same time his comic version of A Christmas Carol was about to open at Miners Alley.
“It was amazing how it flowed out of me,” Hartwell says.
But then, Mae Brussell was a fascinating figure for her time, a Beverly Hills housewife who became known for her meticulous investigations of events as diverse as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and a UFO sighting. She shared her insights in dozens of articles, and through a regular radio program, Dialogue: Conspiracy (later dubbed World Watchers International). “She was not right-wing,” says Hartwell. “If she was, I wouldn’t have written a play about her. She called herself a conspiracy researcher. She was obsessed with the Kennedy assassination. That’s when she started poring over documents, reading newspapers, relaying that information and making those connections people weren’t making at the time."
The more he read about Brussell, the more obsessed Hartwell became with her, too. “She made predictions about other things that were likely to happen,” he notes. “She predicted Bobby getting assassinated and told Rose Kennedy before he was killed that he should be careful. When Watergate happened, her reputation became bigger. The research she was doing was smart, people realized.
"Some of the things she said about how our country is on track to be second or tenth rate because we’re kissing the Russians’ asses made me think she was on to a lot of things," he continues. "What fascinated me was her obsession and her dedication. She had a great following, including some famous people like John Lennon, and she was friends with Frank Zappa. She also thought Charles Manson was a patsy and other people were responsible for the murders.”
Brussell was interested in so much that Hartwell couldn’t include it all. “I couldn’t put everything she hypothesized into one play,” he says. “I had to pull out the nuggets I thought were relevant for her story and are relevant today.”
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He also created a parallel story line that takes place in the present, "completely fabricated, going through the play," Hartwell explains. "It helped me tell the story a little better. I invented some characters; some are from her real life."
Hartwell's own story involves pieces a living together, teaching and writing. “It’s funny, because it becomes easier and more difficult at the same time," he says. "I’ve been in the theater community since 1994, a playwright since 2003. Now there are so many more playwrights than there used to be, it’s becoming more competitive and also more supportive, a community within the theater community.”
He's written for some of the area's most prestigious companies. Curious Theatre Company is an artistic home, as is the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. And Miners Alley, is “like a cozy, warm family,” he says. "It feels great to have written a play someone cares about enough to bring it to life.”
Queen of Conspiracy opens Friday, May 17, and runs through June 3 at Miners Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden. Tickets to the preview on Wednesday, May 15, are just $15; get tickets for any show here. For more information, call 303-935-3044 or go to minersalley.com.