Savva Vassiliev is the sort of person it’s difficult not to notice. Wide-eyed and buzzing with energy, he’s a riveting conversationalist (if you can keep up), cute and very funny. He also seems to be something of a playwright, which is a great way to impress the chicks. So why can’t he get any love?
The Carmel High School senior, who just graduated this week, put his theater skills to the test this spring when he directed What Love Life?, a play he also wrote.
“The play was based on my love life and the main character was based on me,” Vassiliev says. “Sure, everything wasn’t exactly how it happened, or happened at all. I mean, I didn’t really push girls out the window or have friends knocked unconscious with the front door, but the main idea was about my soap operas in dating.”
What Love Life? tells the story of Steve (played by Chase Motley), a luckless fellow with a crush. After asking the object of his affection to come over one evening, he offers her a diet Coke, which she interprets as meaning she’s fat, so she runs away. Steve’s grandparents stop by at all the wrong times, there’s a mix-up when two girls show up at Steve’s place on the same night, and Steve is caught in the middle of some humorous, if embarrassing, hijinks. “There’s a lot of confusion,” Vassiliev says.
One day after school, but before his after-school drama class, Vassiliev meets me in Carmel’s Devendorf Park with his (normally very attractive) face covered in stage makeup, which gives him a very odd look. We’ve met a couple times before—once at a birthday party and once when I saw him wandering the streets of Carmel, yelling strange things. If one didn’t know that the guy is brilliant, one might think he’s crazy. He’s both, and that’s what makes him special.
I comment on his relatively laid-back demeanor during our interview, to which he replies “I have to stay calm because I’ve got so many neuroses.” Fortunately for him, those neuroses make for great material.
After acting in several plays at Carmel High, including the lead in last year’s Play it Again, Sam, Vassiliev decided to branch out. “This is the second time I’ve written a show for the high school,” he explains. “The first was a one-man show called Full of Confused, which sold out.” Asked about his impetus for writing this second play, he says, “I thought it would be a good step. I usually just do standup. People love to see things about relationships going wrong.
“I started writing it as a project for my AP writing class and when I turned it in, it was pretty short. But then I decided that I wanted to make it really good and put it on at the high school.”
Carmel High drama teacher Michael Jacobs read Vassiliev’s script and felt it was written well enough to be staged, but he apparently had some doubts as to Vassiliev’s ability to direct. “He knows I’m not organized,” Vassiliev admits.
Baring one’s soul as an actor is daunting enough, but trying out one’s directorial chops for the first time presents an even more complex problem. Potentially jarring as well is the prospect of watching someone else portray one’s own suffering, funny or not, for all to see.
As opening day approached, there was still some doubt as to whether Vassiliev could pull it off. Fortunately, things went without a hitch. “People seemed to really like it,” he says. “Many people have told me that they were amazed that a high school student could write something this funny, and that’s the best compliment I could get for the show.”
Of his ensemble cast, Vassiliev says, “I think I cast this play wonderfully.” That’s good, since the 11 characters were based (loosely, but still) upon his own experiences. “They all did a really good job,” he comments.
This fall, Vassiliev is headed to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, a fact that he seems abashedly proud of. “A lot of good actors have gone there,” he says, sounding almost embarrassed. (Notable alumni include Robert Redford, Kirk Douglas, Grace Kelly, Danny DeVito and Lauren Bacall.) If drama is important to someone, and it’s very important to this young grad, the American Academy seems like a very good place to go.
Rushing off to his drama class, Vassiliev thanks me for writing this story, promises to e-mail the text of his play (he never does) and gives me a hug good-bye, pausing to give my fiancé, who is reading on the grass nearby, a handshake. The boy has enough spirit and vitality for two people, enough to fill a room probably, and his childlike playfulness is obviously a large part of his public persona. At the same time, he’s gifted with intelligence and vision beyond his years, and one can’t help but feel that this is a person who could go very far indeed.