Written by Ryan Cormier, February 14, 2014
The names stack up fast when Wilmington Drama League veteran Kathy Buterbaugh thinks about the crop of young actors that have worked their way through the venerable community theater group in the late '90s and early 2000s.
There's "Parks and Recreation" star and burgeoning "it girl" Aubrey Plaza, Tony Award-winner and "The Newsroom" star John Gallagher Jr. and former "30 Rock" cast member Keith Powell, among others.
And there's also Wilmington native Jeremy O'Keefe, 33, who now works as an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles.
"We're so blessed to have raised or have any part of the development of these amazing kids who came out of that same time period," she says. "I mean what was in the water?"
This weekend, O'Keefe will bring his new film, "Somewhere Slow," back to the 80-year-old theater group as a fundraiser, fresh from earning positive reviews in newspapers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Delawareans who attend the screenings at the theater -- Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 2 p.m. -- will get a taste of home since part of the film is set in Delaware with a City of Wilmington t-shirt even making a cameo. Both O'Keefe and "Somewhere Slow" star Graham Patrick Martin will attend the screenings and take part in question and answer sessions.
"It's really special hearing that some of my old teachers and people that I grew up with are coming," O'Keefe says. "But it's more important to think that I'm doing something for this theater, which has done so many things for me."
After all, he was active with the Wilmington Drama League's board of directors as a teenager, directed a main stage production at 17 and even started doing publicity for the theater group at the age of 12. "I wouldn't be where I am without them telling me that I can do this," he adds.
Plaza has spoken the same way about the Wilmington Drama League and brought her own film, "Safety Not Guaranteed," to The Grand in 2012 as a fundraiser for the theater company.
The small budget "Somewhere Slow" is filled with recognizable actors like Jessalyn Gilsig ("Glee"), David Costabile ("Breaking Bad"), Wallace Langham ("The Larry Sanders Show") and Robert Forster, who earned a Oscar nomination for his role in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown."
It tells the story of two people adrift. There's Gilsig's character, Anna Thompson, who is in a rut after losing her job as a skin care saleswoman and realizing that her marriage to husband Robert (Costabile) is unfulfilled. She soon meets an aimless young man, Travis Tratten, played by Martin ("The Bill Engvall Show"). The pair leave Delaware and run off together, finding some of themselves in each other.
Unlike O'Keefe's last feature film, 2008's "Wrestling," "Somewhere Slow" received plenty of attention from film critics at major publications across the country. While newspapers like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Philadelphia Inquirer gave doled out good reviews, trades like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were not as kind.
O'Keefe reads all the reviews and says some of the negative write-ups came out first, leaving him wondering if "Somewhere Slow" would be savaged by all. Thankfully for him, it was not the case.
"I was thinking we were going to get slammed across the board, which was very difficult. And then the other reviews came out and I cried because they got the movie," says O'Keefe, who also works for Los Angeles-based Greenstein/Daniel Casting. "In the end, we got good reviews in the places that really matter."
In an interview earlier this week, Gilsig apologized for not being able to make the Delaware premiere of the film. After all, she knows how much of a formative role Delaware played in O'Keefe's life.
"I know it means an awful lot to him. At the very first reading I started to realize how personal the story is for him and even specifically how it needed to be set in Delaware," says Gilsig, who also signed on to help produce the film after reading the script. "So as an actor, I thought to myself that I better wake up because someone's soul is in this material."
The film had a limited release starting Jan. 31 and its Delaware screening will be its last stop before hitting the festival circuit. "Somewhere Slow" is also available on iTunes and On Demand.
O'Keefe admits he was "stressed out" directing the 72-year-old Forster, who immediately put the director at ease by asking him not to treat him special in any way. For Forster, it was another set and another role in a long, storied career.
There was just one problem.
Forster plays a laundromat owner and once they were on set, O'Keefe realized that he had never worked laundromat before and didn't know what kind of work Forster should be doing behind the counter during his scene.
"Robert walks in and says, 'Oh, my father owned a laundromat. I know exactly what to do,'" O'Keefe says. "And then I have that moment where I think, 'What can I possibly teach this guy?'"
IF YOU GO
WHAT: "Somewhere Slow" with director Jeremy O'Keefe and actor Graham Patrick Martin
WHEN: Saturday 8 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m.
WHERE: Wilmington Drama League, 10 W. Lea Blvd., Wilmington
COST: $15 ($50 VIP tickets are available for Saturday's screening, which includes a meet and greet with O'Keefe and Martin, along with a pre-screening reception with complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.)