Local playwright reveals the man behind the mask

Local playwright reveals the man behind the mask

“Ditko” an original play about Steve Ditko the co-creator of “Spider-man and “Doctor Strange” written by Lenny Schwartz of Scituate, runs Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 8-10 and 15-17, at the RISE Playhouse, 142 Clinton St., Woonsocket. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.smarttix.com or at the door. 8 p.m.

SCITUATE – The life and struggles of the artist behind the original comic book character Spider-man and Doctor Strange is explored in Scituate resident Lenny Schwartz’s newest biographic play, “Ditko.”

Schwartz’s 40th production, “Ditko” will be presented for two weeks this month at the Rise Playhouse in Woonsocket by the Daydream Theatre Company.

Schwartz, who writes about two to three plays each year, said he was inspired to write a trilogy of shows about comic book creators who did not get the credit they deserved.

Called “the unsung hero of comic creators,” Steve Ditko died in June. He worked with Marvel Comics and Stan Lee in the 1950s and 1960s and co-created comic icons Spider-man, Doctor Strange, and other characters.

“I loved his work. Loved reading stories about him. He has such interesting stories,” Schwartz said.

Shrouded in mystery, the play centers around the relationship between Ditko and Lee, which became worse when Ditko left Marvel in 1966 for personal reasons. According to Schwartz, Ditko never revealed why he decided to leave Marvel, but he continued working in comics for the remainder of his life.

“People were fascinated by his decision. They wanted to know why he left Spider-man. He never told anyone,” Schwartz said.

In the era when Ditko was creating his work, artists lost credit and ownership of the material, something Ditko fought against from the beginning, Schwartz said. Ditko was responsible for several of DC Comic’s “silver age icons,” including Hawk the Dove, Shade the Changing Man and The Creeper.

“He put his principles into his comics,” Schwartz said. “He didn’t value money. He valued his art.”

A lifelong fan, Schwartz said he read comics since he was young and knew Ditko’s work since he was 8 years old. Despite years of reading his comics, including every issue of Spider-man, Schwartz researched Ditko for three years before putting ink to paper to pen the play.

“I take all the research and translate it into a story that everyone can enjoy,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz admitted that Spider-man is his favorite comic book hero, but he said Batman is a close second.

Though centered around comics, the story is about two friends, Ditko and Lee, and the career decisions that affected their 50-year friendship.

Schwartz calls the play “easily digestible,” and a story that anyone 10-years-old and up could appreciate. He said whether the viewer is a comic book fan or not, he wrote an “equal opportunity show.”

Once an aspiring actor, Schwartz said he realized he preferred writing soon after graduating college. Twenty years-later, Schwartz continues to produce plays, musicals, and screenplays.

“I can’t put a money value on doing these plays and working with these people. They say it’s not work if you love what you do and I love every second of it,” Schwartz said.

His plays and movies have won awards, with his films released on Amazon Prime and plays shown off-Broadway. “Ditko” will be staged on Nov. 8-10, and Nov. 15-17 at 8 p.m.

Tickets for “Ditko” are $15 at www.smartix.com or at the door at the Rise Playhouse, 142 Clinton St., Woonsocket.