Comic book writer tells ‘True Story’

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a comic book writer by day turned playwright and screenwriter by night, didn’t have to stray far from his own life experiences to craft the coming-of-age comedy “Based on a Totally True Story.”

The semi-autobiographical play, which opens Friday at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco, follows the adventures of Ethan Keene, a rising young gay comic book writer and playwright on the verge of breaking into the Hollywood scene.

When one of Ethan’s plays is optioned by a movie producer, he’s suddenly faced with the rigors of juggling his love life, familial obligations and, of course, his unbridled pursuit of success. It’s something Aguirre-Sacasa certainly relates to.

“A lot of [the play] has to do with coming of age as an artist,” the 34-year-old says. “It focuses on a weird time, when you’re no longer a college kid and not really a fully formed adult yet. It’s sort of about ending this second adolescence and trying to find this balance in your life between creative pursuits, work, relationships and family. The challenge is how to really hold all those things together at once.”

While autobiographical, “Based on a Totally True Story” doesn’t necessarily reflect particular events experienced by Aguirre-Sacasa, but rather the emotions he’d been grappling with post-graduate school. After finishing studies at Yale School of Drama, the budding playwright moved to New York and began work authoring comics as well as turning one of his plays into a screenplay.

With so many projects in gear, Aguirre-Sacasa came to realize he had been neglecting his playwriting endeavors and decided his next piece would be a bit more personal.

“My first year out of graduate school I was getting used to life in New York, and I did not work on a play for an entire year,” he says. “The experience definitely informed the play; it starts off with the main character, who hasn’t worked on a play for a while.”

While “Based on a Totally True Story” does differ slightly from other works by Aguirre-Sacasa — it relies less on sci-fi and horror conventions he often used — the two-time Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award nominee admits that he did have some preconceived notions about who would come to see the show, based on his previous work and comic book persona.

“We had made a lot of assumptions about who this play would speak to, but we were pleased to see how universal the themes were and how much in fact it spoke to a wide audience,” he says. “All the issues in the play are what any relationship goes through, regardless if you’re straight, gay, young or old.”

IF YOU GO

Based on a Totally True Story

Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.; closes Dec. 16

Tickets: $22 to $24

Contact: (415) 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org

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