It was the day tropical storm Hanna was supposed to hit and, as luck would have it, Michael Domitrovich was stuck inside with a chest cold. Despite the weather and the nagging cough, Mr. Domitrovich declared himself a lucky man.
“I consider myself very lucky. I’m stupid lucky,” the young director and playwright said by telephone from his downtown New York city apartment. At 22, Mr. Domitrovich wrote and directed his first show performed off-Broadway. Soon after, a book he coauthored with his partner, Eduardo Machado, called Tastes of Cuba, was published. And last month, at the ripe old age of 25, Mr. Domitrovich directed his second off-Broadway show.
Lucky he is, but what is luck if it cannot be shared?
That was the question Mr. Domitrovich asked himself when — because of the hectic schedule that is Martha’s Vineyard in August — his parents, Lola’s Restaurant owners Paul and Kathy Domitrovich, were not able to visit New York and take in his new show. If his parents could not come, then neither could his 87-year-old grandmother who also lives here. So Mr. Domitrovich decided he would bring his luck back home to his family.
“I was up here a few weeks ago and we were driving up to Larsen’s to have lunch. I kind of said to my mom, ‘So I’m kind of guessing you’re not going to be able to make it down for the show,’” the 1999 graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School said. “Well, what if we brought it up here?” The play, about a pair of brothers and a woman one of them loves, is set on the Vineyard and is called On Island. A Vineyard staging would be perfect.
Mr. Domitrovich got to planning. He consulted his cast, rented a minivan and today, the four of them plus the show’s producer, are driving from the city to Woods Hole. Tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. — weather permitting — their production will go off on the jetty by the first bridge at State Beach. What was at first planned as an intimate family screening has now become a production with its own e-mail address (to reserve a free ticket, send a request along to firstname.lastname@example.org). “I was trying not to make a big deal about it. I was just trying to do it for my grandmother,” Mr. Domitrovich said. “Of course, my mother did not want to do that. She was like, I want to tell everyone because it’s so exciting!”
When he was in the seventh grade, Mr. Domitrovich’s parents moved the family from New York to Martha’s Vineyard, a place they had only visited once before. “We went up there for vacation, but my crazy parents found this restaurant that we were able to buy,” Mr. Domitrovich said of Lola’s, the family’s Beach Road restaurant. “The Vineyard was both far and exotic, but also close to New York. It was not like moving across the country, and there was a restaurant there.”
Mr. Domitrovich, an only child, always loved the theatre. He began acting in school plays in elementary school and his mother, who had acted her way through high school and college, routinely took her son to the theatre. When he moved to the Island, his passion for the theatre only grew. “The first play I ever wrote was at St. Pierre [Camp]. It was about an insane remote control,” Mr. Domitrovich said. As a student at the Tisbury School, the young performer starred in Newsies. At the high school, he got involved with the Minnesingers. He performed in school plays, did teenprov at the Vineyard Playhouse and developed a love of writing as a student of the late high school English teacher John Morelli. “I was a ham and I liked getting applause and I liked getting noticed,” he said. “If you make people laugh and you make people happy and do cool stuff like that, it’s hard not to love it.”
After graduation, Mr. Domitrovich took on the big city as a student at New York University. Used to being a big fish in a small pond, Mr. Domitrovich found the New York acting scene daunting and competitive. “When you get all that delicious support and attention and encouragement for a long period of time, you can start taking it for granted. But coming to New York and really not getting it at all was sobering. It was really an excellent learning experience, and I really had to reckon with myself. I physically could not go through the audition process. So I started shifting toward more dramatic writing,” he said.
Mr. Domitrovich stayed on in New York, but shied away from becoming just another struggling artist working at a restaurant. “I don’t want to wait tables again,” he remembered thinking. “If you get a job waiting tables and you’re in the arts, you have to work like eight days a week [in New York],” he continued. “The only way to actually do this stuff is to actually commit to your art until it starts working.” So he wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more.
And then the work began to pay off. In 2003, Mr. Domitrovich completed his first script. The play has never been performed, but, like On Island, it is about a restaurant family on Martha’s Vineyard. “It felt very confessional. It felt very therapeutic to write because I was telling my story, but it was different also,” he said. The book deal and the first off-Broadway show, whose name is not fit for a family newspaper, followed. And then, six months ago, within days of each other, both Mr. Domitrovich’s grandfather and his grandmother ended up in the hospital. The family stopped everything and flew out to Detroit to be with them. “My grandfather was holding on by a string while we were waiting for my grandmother to be well enough to go see him,” he said. “She came to him, kissed him, sang to him, then, poof , he was gone,” he continued. “He waited for her.”
It was the first family member Mr. Domitrovich has lost and the moment was both devastating and inspirational. “This was like the ah-ha moment for me. Like I felt like I understood something that I never understood before,” he said. Back in New York, Mr. Domitrovich began writing. The story which flowed was this: “It’s about a Greek family with a restaurant on the Island, the biggest restaurant on the Island, and one of the brothers is getting married to a rich girl from Boston,” Mr. Domitrovich said. The other brother is the responsible maÃ®tre d’ at the family restaurant and has to counsel Brother One through his insecurities about the upcoming wedding.
“There was this revelation for me with my granddad’s passing. When someone dies or when someone leaves, families sort of instinctually reorganize and someone picks up the slack. There’s like a reshuffling, and I wanted to write about that,” he said.
Mr. Domitrovich finished the play in a matter of days and an Upper East Side play festival accepted it. It showed 18 times throughout August, the busiest time on the Vineyard. “My family couldn’t make it because they were the sole [food] vendors at the Artisans’ Festival. They were hoping to get down right before Labor Day, but waiters and cooks are dropping like flies then,” Mr. Domitrovich said. “And my grandmother, who I really wanted to see the show, is 87 and diabetic, so it’s not like they could drive down and pull an all-nighter, because it’s like, it would have literally killed her.”
So tomorrow evening before the sun sets, Mr. Domitrovich (who has encouraged his actors to project so his grandmother can hear every line) will welcome all to his show. In case of rain, the production will go off at Lola’s It will be an off-off-off Broadway affair, but one which the young playwright believes will be even more rewarding than the sound of a New York applause. “In terms of your vision actually coming to fruition, it doesn’t get much better than doing it where it was actually supposed to be done,” he said.
On Island begins at 5:30 p.m. on State Beach in Oak Bluffs just past the first bridge. Rain location is Lola’s Restaurant. For free tickets, e-mail email@example.com.