DOWNTOWN — Like many creative minds, Mary Jo Deschanel keeps a journal for inspiration, recording everything she hears and sees. From the dark director David Lynch to the playwriting professor at UCLA, she’s encountered her fair share of colorful characters.
After spending nearly her entire life in Hollywood, a marriage to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (“My Sister’s Keeper,” “Passion of the Christ”) and raising two kids (Zooey and Emily Deschanel, both accomplished actresses), Deschanel is sharing her experiences in her first one-woman show, “Dooth on Vonoco,” a play about exactly what the title insinuates — a death in Venice.
“I would say [the characters] were inspired by real people, but there is no one real person in a character,” said Deschanel, who is best known for her work as Eileen Haywood, the handicapped wife in Lynch’s TV series “Twin Peaks.” “It’s all true, but it’s not.”
The play, which will show Oct. 15 —17 at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club, is set in 1970s Venice, Calif. where a group of seven women are connected by the violent death of a young musician.
“The death is the catalyst for the people going into a bit of a shock situation … it allows people to go into another space, and lots of times they open up in a different way,” Deschanel said. “I think this death is a very important moment … . We all remember when someone close to us dies, and it really changes you.”
Deschanel, who has been developing the characters through acting classes and workshops for the past few years, started seriously working on the project last year.
“A problem [that I had is] I couldn’t figure out how to tie them together even though they had similar themes,” said Deschanel, who has since finished writing a complete script.
Although she plans on sticking to the dialogue, certain areas will be open to improvisation depending on the flow, Deschanel said.
“Sometimes there’s deeper meaning … and it feels right and you don’t know why exactly,” Deschanel said. “And lots of times when you create a process, you do it without knowing why.”
The production is expected to be minimal on the technical level with the hopes that the show will be rich more in content rather than flashy effects.
“I question at times the wisdom of this, but I have committed to doing it,” Deschanel said of the play.
The process began when she told her friend Astrid Preston about the idea. Preston put her in touch with the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club, which had an opening for an artist-in-residence, a position designed to empower women in the arts.
After a lengthy application process, Deschanel was selected as an artist-in-residence, which led her to a director and provided a venue to put on the play.
“It’s been pretty much a learning process for me. I still don’t know how to go about putting something together [completely by] yourself,” Deschanel said.
In the future, Deschanel hopes to perform the play in other venues and with an entire cast.
“It makes you feel happy to do that. The whole journey of doing this has been so wonderful because I’ve had so much help and support. Everybody that I tell has been so positive. You receive more than you give,” Deschanel said.
“Dooth on Vonoco” opens Oct. 15 at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. All proceeds will benefit 826 LA and the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club Women in the Arts Program Fund.
For more information, visit www.smbwc.org/deathinvenice.html.