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posted: 8/3/2012 6:00 AM

Writing adds up to success for former Hoffman Estates math teacher

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  • Playwright David Alex, center, works with the cast for "Adrift," presented by Polarity Ensemble Theatre at the The Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago.

      Playwright David Alex, center, works with the cast for "Adrift," presented by Polarity Ensemble Theatre at the The Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago.

  • Colin Henry Fewell and James Eldrenkamp star in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's production of "Adrift," written by former Hoffman Estates High School teacher David Alex.

      Colin Henry Fewell and James Eldrenkamp star in Polarity Ensemble Theatre's production of "Adrift," written by former Hoffman Estates High School teacher David Alex.
    courtesy of Johnny Knight

  • David Alex

      David Alex

 
 

David Alex is living proof that the expression "Those who can't do, teach" is dead wrong.

For most of his 30-year career as a math teacher at Hoffman Estates High School, Alex juggled teaching with writing -- a passion he's had since childhood. Retired for nine years, he now devotes his time to writing and sending his work out.

"I have been rejected by some of the finest theaters in the country," he laughs.

That may be true, but over the past few years, Alex's plays have been getting more and more attention -- and productions.

His latest is "Adrift," a think piece for four actors being produced in Chicago by the Polarity Ensemble Theatre in association with Azusa Productions.

"In one sentence," Alex explains, "'Adrift' is about a devoted and loving son, Isaac Abbas, who is trying to answer the question, 'How can I forgive myself for what I have done?'"

English majors may recognize this as the question that runs through Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," about a sailor who is doomed to a lonely, friendless life because of something he did in the past. Alex, who majored in both English and math in college, intentionally filled his play with references to this poem.

"I wanted to make clear that life is full of choices," Alex says, adding, "and even not making a choice is a choice."

But "Adrift" is more than just an essay on responsibility. It is also a play about relationships, specifically between fathers and sons. In Alex's play, there are two father-and-son pairs.

"Parents and children live in fear, they live in fear of failing each other," Alex says. "The funny thing is that each thinks they are the one who has failed."

Alex began work on "Adrift" in 2002 but didn't complete it until last year.

"The way I work is I do some research. I write a draft, and then it goes into a drawer," Alex says. "Later it comes back out. I do a little more work."

Sometimes he completes the play; sometimes he puts it back in the drawer for the next time he decides to work on it.

"I have written 13 plays this way," Alex says. "And I have received three grants in recognition of my plays."

Most recently he received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council to produce "Adrift."

"There is a theme that resonates through my plays, and that is that there is the conflict of the individual," Alex says. "A man wants to be, and needs to be, an individual. But society needs to have the loyalty of its members. I am interested in what happens when one's needs conflict with those of society."

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