William Nedved recognized the face, but not the name.
“I got a message from my best friend from when I was a Rotary high-school exchange student in Brazil,” the former Chicagoan says on the phone from Los Angeles, where he now lives. “We had reconnected on Facebook, and he just sent me an IM saying, ‘Hey, by the way, search this name.’ It was a name I’d never heard before.” Googling the name brought up a porn site featuring a familiar face. “My first boyfriend, when I was in Brazil—first ever, first everything—is now, I discovered, this sort of famous porn star. Like, he has a Wikipedia page under his new identity.”
The shock of the discovery led Nedved, 33, to dig up his journal from that year, which led to another revelation. “I found in this journal that I was often lying to myself,” he says. “I was in Brazil when I came out, so the first part of the journal, I’m lying about who I’m attracted to. And then in the second part of the journal, I’m starting to recognize that my host family might be secretly reading the journal. So I was also lying about what I was doing.”
An Iowa native, Nedved came to Chicago to found Jefferson Park’s Gift Theatre with his University of Iowa classmate Michael Patrick Thornton. In 2007, Nedved moved to California to study screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He stayed after graduation thanks to a staff job on the series Ugly Betty. The Gift has produced a number of his plays, including last year’s Northwest Highway, a twice-extended hit set in the Gift’s own neighborhood.
Nedved began working on a prose piece about the Brazil experience. But then his actor friend Adam Silver, another ex-Chicagoan living in Los Angeles, told him a story last year about being stalked by a shady student filmmaker who’d hired him for a short. Nedved saw the possibility of staging the two tales side by side.
“[Adam] was sort of unsettled by how this guy was clearly making this autobiographical short film [but] presenting it as fiction,” Nedved says. “Adam started bringing up these questions about telling your own story, and I said, ‘Gosh, that’s sort of the underlying theme of my piece about Brazil.’ I started looking at ways of connecting them, ways that two connected monologues could be in conversation.”
Last summer, Nedved and Silver performed Fact & Fiction as part of the Hollywood Fringe, where it received solid reviews. “We booked the space and started selling tickets when I hadn’t even finished the script,” Nedved says. “A deadline can be a great motivator.”
It was Gift cofounder Thornton who Nedved says encouraged him to keep working on the piece and found a space for it between the theater’s subscription shows. “What started with me primarily ecstatic about Will being onstage,” Thornton says, “has morphed into a deeper respect for what Fact & Fiction suggests about the ethical boundaries of art and the slipperiness of memory.”
“I really like it out here and I find myself being very productive,” the author says of life in L.A. “But it’s nice to write something on my own and have the option to come back to Chicago as I did last summer and workshop and be involved in the process that way. It’s what every playwright’s looking for.”
Fact & Fiction runs Thursday 24–Saturday 26 at the Gift Theatre.