By Frankie Kujawa
Local playwright and author R. Eric Thomas helps to close out Everyman Theatre’s 2021-2022 season with his world premiere comedy CRYING ON TELEVISION. Running through June 26th, the performance wrestles with one of life’s great mysteries – how do you make friends as an adult in today’s modern, often dystopian, world? The Baltimore-based Thomas, who was named in the May/June issue of The Advocate as one of 50 LGBTQ+ Champions of Pride, recently chatted about his hilarious new play, his newly-released young adult novel KINGS OF B’MORE and his fascination with Charm City.
Frankie Kujawa: Congratulations on being named one of The Advocate’s 2022 Champions of Pride!
R. Eric Thomas: It was a real thrill and I’m very honored. I think there’s a million people in this state who are doing great things for the community. It was a real honor to be highlighted by the magazine!
Frankie Kujawa: In your own words, what can audiences expect from CRYING ON TELEVISION?
R. Eric Thomas: I like to describe it as the sitcom LIVING SINGLE meets NOISES OFF. So, it’s a farcical, modern comedy about the difficulty of making friends as an adult. You’re going to see these four residents of an apartment building here in Baltimore going through all kinds of different changes. They’re just trying to be in the same space with each other. It’s very laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a lot of weird, crazy props going on. It’s just like a really classic, farcical comedy.
Frankie Kujawa: What was your inspiration for CRYING ON TELEVISION?
R. Eric Thomas: When I moved back home to Baltimore, I moved to an apartment building that was shockingly similar to the one in this play. I thought that it would be like THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW with people walking in the door all the time and hanging out. Similar to any sitcom where no one locks their doors, and everybody just makes friends. And I found it really hard to make friends. So, I thought a lot about community. I thought a lot about how we reach each other, and the silly things that we do to try and make a connection. And, once I got over the weirdness of not being able to make connections in life, I decided to write a play about it instead.
Frankie Kujawa: It seems many of your recent theatric works have the comedic feel to that of television. Would you say, as you grew up, that television was a medium that provided a lot of inspiration?
R. Eric Thomas: Well, you know, it’s funny because I wasn’t really allowed to watch very much television when I was a kid, but I’m so fascinated by it. I am fascinated by the idea that there was a period of time when television was the monoculture. It was the thing that everybody saw, watched and talked about. That was astounding and very interesting to me. So, now I think, especially the last couple of plays, I’ve been writing about disconnection and miscommunication. I think television, as well as the old television formats, are really good ways of highlighting the way that things have changed. I also think, in terms of a comedic language, a lot of classic television performances were built on the talents of theater performers and vaudevillians. So I think that there’s just a really natural conversation between theater and television, especially with comedy, that I was very, very interested in continuing to explore.
Frankie Kujawa: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your new book, KINGS OF B’MORE?
R. Eric Thomas: It’s a young adult novel. It’s loosely inspired by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s about two black, queer 16-year-old friends here in Baltimore. One of them is moving away and so the other one is sort of panicked about losing his best friend. So, he plans this day of adventures throughout the city to create a memorable goodbye. And things go off the rails almost immediately. Neither of these boys is Ferris Bueller, so we get to see a different side of Baltimore as they try to piece their day together. They go to the Pride festival. They go to the pool in Druid Hill Park. They’re on the MARC train to DC, briefly. They go to a tea dance at a house, which I sort-of made up, in the Mt. Vernon/Bolton Hill-area. They’re all over. [The story] is really just about the power of platonic love and how important queer friendship is at every age.
Frankie Kujawa: What are you hoping readers take away from this novel?
R. Eric Thomas: I think the novel is so steeped in joy and steeped in a vibrant way of living. I wanted to write about black, queer characters who weren’t defined by trauma, as so often we are in fiction. So, I want readers to take away an expanded sense of possibility. The idea that these boys can be and do anything here in Baltimore and can feel such deep love for each other and have that be a place of safety.
Frankie Kujawa: It seems like the city of Baltimore is the backdrop in a lot of your writings and plays. How would you describe your relationship with Baltimore?
R. Eric Thomas: I think Baltimore is such a fascinating city. In my opinion, it’s a city of 'bubbles.' It’s a city of a lot of clear separation that doesn’t do the city or it's people justice. It’s a city I find very hard, sometimes, and it’s a city that I find very inspiring. So, because of all that complexity, it makes a really good backdrop for a lot of the plays that I write. You know, I’m from [Baltimore] and I lived here until college. Then, I came back after college for a while. Then, I moved away and came back again – which is sort of the 'Baltimore story. ' I think the city is a space of such profound potential. I’ve seen potential be realized and I’ve seen potential be squandered. So, the reason I think I write about it so much is because it’s a city where the story is not finished yet and I find that fascinating.
For more information on CRYING ON TELEVISION, please visit: everymantheatre.org/
For more information on R. Eric Thomas and his fabulous work, please visit: rericthomas.com/