In a perfect world, playwright Jim Lyke and his friend Tony Huml would still be tweaking aspects of “Postnuptial Agreement,” their 2015 original story about a man dying from cancer who seeks a new partner for his wife once he’s gone.
Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. Huml, a beloved educator, basketball coach and entrepreneur who conceptualized the story, died in 2020 after a five-year battle with medullary thyroid cancer.
Though Huml lived long enough to witness the show performed live on stage, he and Lyke’s dream of seeing it on the big screen never quite materialized. At least not yet.
But as Lyke and Janesville Performing Arts Center Executive Director Nathan Burkart prepare for a third engagement of the show this month, Lyke holds out hope a film version of “Postnuptial” still might come to pass.
“From Day One, when Tony came up with the idea, it was always for it to be a film,” Lyke said. “He wanted to make a movie of this story, so we kept meeting and talking about doing this as a film.”
The visual aspect of film was what made the premise particularly intriguing.
“You can do a lot more things on film,” Lyke added. “When you’re on stage, you’re basically working with theater of the mind, and there is only so much you can do with props and staging. With film, if I want a scene to take place in a park, we take cameras to the park. For a scene at a school, we go to a school.”
But when JPAC approached Lyke about another stage play wrapping another of his original works, “Mirror Image,” Lyke saw an opportunity. He approached Huml with an idea.
“I said I wanted to write this as a play so, within a year, the story would be out, and we wouldn’t have to twiddle our thumbs with film,” Lyke recalled. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’”
As it turns out, the decision was a blessing. Not only did Huml get to see his story performed, he was granted the satisfaction of seeing it reprised in 2017 and presented to sold-out houses.
Now, as “Postnuptial” prepares for its third run with a one-weekend engagement Sept. 9-12 at JPAC, Lyke has given the script a facelift with a potential celluloid future in mind.
“It’s a pretty substantial rewrite, and I’m really happy with how it came out,” he said. “I’m happy with the script, and I think it’s going to work really well. It’s like when you make ‘Spiderman,’ and then the origin story is different.”
Updated as a film script, “Postnuptial” now boasts enough changes that Lyke suggests those who saw the show previously consider coming out again for a second look.
“I had three dozen drafts of this on my hard drive,” he said. “When I got the opportunity to re-present it at JPAC, I had all of these new ideas and scenes and things. I decided it was an opportunity to, instead of doing the same things, go at it from another perspective, so it has a lot of new dialogue. I also massaged some of the characters and relationships and added some scenes that were not in the first one.”
Burkart, who wasn’t at JPAC when the play was originally staged, said he doesn’t want to make a carbon copy of what was done before. Instead, he wants the show’s focus to be on Huml’s memory.
“It falls on me as director to make sure his memory is still there,” Burkart said. “It’s not the same as him being there physically, but what we’ve talked about are other ways we can make sure his memory lives on with this. This is much bigger than the person directing or the people performing. This is about what this person did over the last few years of his life, and he deserves to be part of that.”
Lyke stands in agreement, and though he has compiled a script-writing resume filled with titles loved by local audiences, he said working with Huml on “Postnuptial” was a career benchmark.
“This one has certainly driven me more than any other play,” he said. “Usually they are written and performed, and I move on. This one, I can’t let it go because I keep looking for ways to make it the best it can be. Every draft, every change, every new thought ... I ran everything by him. I wanted his blessing on everything we did, and I wanted him to be happy with it. That was the main objective.
“I won’t be satisfied until I see this thing on screen and I can say, ‘Tony, we did it.’”