With Nick’s Flamingo Grill, the actor-composer-playwright returns to the Alliance Theatre for the first time since 2015’s Edward Foote. “Nick’s Flamingo Grill,” a world premiere, runs through Oct. 28 at the Alliance Theatre in Midtown Atlanta, 1280 Peachtree St. NE.
By Therra Gwyn Jaramillo
For a character in one of Phillip DePoy’s mystery novels, “finishing a sentence” means serving jail time. For the Atlanta author and playwright, it’s something in his daily writing session that he may choose not to do.
On occasion, DePoy will deliberately stop work in the middle of a sentence, a delicious way to foster anticipation for his next day’s journey into whatever he’s writing.
“My writing schedule is the same as it’s been since I was 15 in 1965,” he says. “I write every morning as soon as I wake up and have coffee. Every day, sick or well, busy or sane, married or single.”
“You’d think I’d be a lot better at it by now,” he says, wryly.
Nick’s Flamingo Grill, a world premiere musical, brings DePoy back to the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre for the first time since 2015’s Edward Foote. That Appalachian-set gothic murder mystery, also with music, proved buzzworthy and won Atlanta theater Suzi Bass awards for best world premiere and best play.
DePoy, at 69, has a genial, self-effacing exterior that houses a prolific and disciplined scribe. He calls his almost 50-year career in the arts a “sampler plate” — actor, playwright, director, musician, composer, novelist and educator.
As Theatrical Outfit’s artistic director in the 1990s, he turned the Atlanta theater into one that made music. He led Clayton State University’s theater department for eight years, was a Georgia Council for the Arts writer-in-residence for a time, and has written 20 novels and 43 plays. In 2014, he was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year for December’s Thorn, one of seven thrillers in his Fever Devlin mystery series. Icepick, his 20th novel, hits bookshelves in October.
Writing is DePoy’s way to process the world around him. By the time he’d reached his teens, he’d already had experiences that would incubate in his brain and influence his work for decades.
In the mid-1960s, Phillip followed younger brother, Atlanta actor-musician Scott DePoy, in joining the Actors and Writers Workshop, an early seed in Atlanta’s theater scene. It was run by Walter and Betty Lou Roberts, the parents of film actors Eric and Julia Roberts. Coretta Scott King was a sponsor, and the King children were members.
Phillip developed a friendship with Yolanda King, a few years his junior. “She was a girl, she was really smart and we kissed,” he says of their youthful attraction.
That kiss came onstage in a production where DePoy played a fox and King a turtle, a kiss only slightly less scandalous in the natural world as it was in the 1960s South. They stayed in touch until King’s 2007 death.
Nick’s Flamingo Grill was born of a similar childhood remembrance, one sparked by his father, the musician Bob DePoy.
“In the late 1950s, Dad would drive us from the south side of town over to where they kept the rich people, near Westminster, to go to swimming practice because Scott and I were on a swim team,” DePoy says. “As we drove by the Armor Meat Packing Plant, now the Castleberry section of town, he’d point and say, ‘That’s where the club is.’”
The club was a new, somewhat hidden and quasi-illegal jazz joint where Bob DePoy’s Atlanta Symphony friends moonlighted. Unlike a lot of clubs then, race didn’t matter. Only the music.
Although firmly planted in a family of artists, DePoy still marvels at what an artistic collaboration can produce. Nick’s Flamingo Grill had the input of what he calls “objective and talented outsiders” (meaning non-native Atlanta artists) including Zimbabwe-born director Tinashe Kajese-Bolden.
“She has a perspective I don’t have,” DePoy says, “She brings things to this production I never could.”
DePoy is a multi-instrumentalist who can “make a noise” (his words) on almost 30 instruments, most of them stringed. He wrote 10 original songs for Nick’s Flamingo Grill in collaboration with New Orleans-bred, Atlanta-based jazz pianist Tyrone Jackson.
“He’s by far the hottest piano player I have heard in Atlanta,” DePoy says. “Ever.”
Some fast facts: DePoy doesn’t own a cellphone. In his rare spare time he loves to cook for family and friends, garden, delve into the books of longtime favorites Joseph Campbell and Lao Tzu, and surprise himself with how well he can “fix stuff around the house.” He once rewired his Decatur home, reasoning, “How hard can it be?” Not that hard, apparently. The house passed inspection.
He can do just about anything it seems, except dance.
Strike that. DePoy says he can dance.
“I have been known to do a dance,” he admits. “Usually when I’m in my cups.” He likes to refer to it as “reckless abandon.”
Although DePoy has lived briefly in Paris, New York and Boston, and worked in dozens of other places, he always makes his way back to Atlanta and the arts community.
“It’s a family here,” he says, “Every place else I’ve been I enjoyed doing the work, but I missed the family.”