“The Tuna Goddess,” about to have its premiere staging at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster, took a long time to mature. Playwright Jade Schuyler recalls that she first got the idea for the play about 17 years ago while living and working in Los Angeles. The Chatham native, who now lives in Harwich, had moved to the West Coast to pursue a career in film after living in New York City and working in theater after graduating from college.
“When I was living in LA, I always had a story in me. I’d write all the time,” says Schuyler. In 2001, after she had been there for several years, she was taking a class in playwriting when she met the man she would later marry, Paul Schuyler. He was a writer and director, and the two talked about collaborating on the play she was working on, which was then titled ‘The Arlie X” and is now being produced as “The Tuna Goddess,” opening June 27 at Cape Rep Theater in Brewster.
“It was the first thing we worked on together,” Schuyler says, telling the story of how she would put the play aside and return to it over and over through the years before finally completing it last winter. “I think it was kind of the catalyst for us to get together.”
They fell in love, got married and had children, and the play took a backseat to family and work. “I took it out about five years ago to work on it as a novel, and then life got in the way,” Schuyler says.
Meanwhile, she and Paul, who is originally from New York state, decided they’d rather raise their two sons on Cape Cod than in Los Angeles. In 2005 they moved to the Cape to join Jade’s mother in the business she founded, Chatham Pottery. They opened the Box Office Café in South Chatham, thinking they’d have some time to devote to creativity on the side but that became increasingly difficult. “The restaurant just swallowed us up time-wise,” she said. They sold the business in 2015, and the following year, when Jade returned from shooting a film, she and Paul worked together on a short film called “Runner.” Written and directed by Paul and starring Jade, the film was released last year and recently had a screening at the Orpheum Theater in Chatham.
Schuyler, who has acted in a number of Cape venues—including Cape Rep’s recent productions of “Regular Singing” and “Peter and the Starcatcher” — never lost her love of writing. This past winter she took a playwriting class taught by Art Devine, a playwright, director and actor whose work is often featured on Cape Rep’s stage and who is an instructor with Cape Rep’s TheatreLab program. Schuyler presented “The Tuna Goddess” in class and Devine encouraged her to keep working on it. As fate would have it, “I got the flu during the winter, I couldn’t leave the house for a week, so I just finished it.”
In February, she sent the completed play to Devine, who took it to Cape Rep founder and Producing Artistic Director Janine Perry. “Within three or four days Janine called me and said I want to produce your play,” Schuyler recalls. “I was floored.” She was thrilled that Devine would be the play’s director, and says she has thoroughly enjoyed working with him.
It was Devine who insisted, after Schuyler took part in auditioning actors for the various parts in “The Tuna Goddess,” that she be the one to play the lead. Schuyler stars as Alex, a woman who grew up fishing with her father and has now returned home to settle his estate. In writing the play, Schuyler used her own experiences in the Cape fishing community. When she was younger, “I did tuna fish during the summer, and I was the only girl,” she recalls. “I always loved being around fishermen, and the fishing culture, and once I got on a tuna boat, I loved it so much.”
She is working once more with her husband, Paul, who plays the younger Alex’s father, a character Jade describes as “the emotional center of the whole play.”
While it is an emotional story, the play is also a comedy, Schuyler says. “It’s a comedy but definitely rooted in dramatic reality. It’s the story of a family. People will laugh and they will definitely cry.”
“The Tuna Goddess”
At Cape Rep Theatre, Route 6A, Brewster
From June 27 to July 21, Tuesday through Thursday, 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m.; no show July 4.
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, www.caperep.org