If the name Dan Rodricks sounds familiar, it should.
For the last 47 years, Rodricks has been a mainstay at the Baltimore Sun, where he has produced award-winning stories and columns that take readers behind the scenes of current issues, into the Baltimore neighborhoods we may never visit, and introduce us to people we don’t know, but should. Simply put, Rodricks, through his writing, makes us feel.
“When you’re a columnist, you build relationships with people,” said Rodricks, whose column is among the longest running of its kind in the country. “Not being from Baltimore, I try to get a sense of the person’s sense of place, who they are to Baltimore and what they are going through. I empathize with ordinary people going through extraordinary experiences.”
After 6,500 columns, Rodricks said it’s tough to keep track, but some of his most memorable ones have made their way onto stage in two plays, Baltimore, You Have No Idea, which premiered last year and is on track for a second run next month; and Baltimore Docket, which will be staged early next year.
Baltimore, You Have No Idea is a 90-minute theatrical memoir, written by Rodricks, that brings to life some of the many stories he has told. In the production, Rodricks plays himself and is joined by a cast of seven and a pianist who composed original music for the transitions between the play’s nine scenes.
Baltimore, You Have No Idea tells the stories of a woman who married into a Baltimore crime family, the political boss of bosses, soldiers who served in World War II, the struggles of a former drug dealer trying to build a new life after prison, a woman mourning her son, a model train collector who made a guy cry, and criminals who were “guilty but mostly stupid.”
When the play premiered in December 2022 in the 350-seat Meyerhoff Auditorium of the Baltimore Museum of Art, it played before three soldout crowds. The play is in revival next month, again at the BMA, and three of the six performances are already sold out.
His second play, Baltimore Docket, features seven stories from courtrooms and trials that Rodricks has observed. Like Baltimore, You Have No Idea, Rodricks will play himself with a cast that acts out scenes.
Although Rodrick’s foray into playwriting is new, he said he was a thespian in high school. “I was always a bit of a ham,” he joked.
He played Tevya in Fiddler On The Roof his senior year at East Bridgewater High School in Massachusetts, but didn’t return to the stage until he was 32 in Baltimore. He took voice lessons and started appearing in the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan with Baltimore’s Young Victorian Theatre Co. He was in Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, HMS Pinafore, The Yeoman of the Guard, and had the lead in Mikado.
Rodricks said he decided 2021 was the year to write his first script, bringing together journalism, his love of theater, and his ear for dialogue.
“I had it in my head to write a play for years before actually doing it. I read plays, watched plays, but didn’t get around to writing a script until 2021,” Rodricks said. “In the back of my mind I always thought I could write a play, which would be the best distillation of my writing skills, storytelling and knowledge over the years. I thought about doing a one-man play that I could sustain over an hour, but it occurred to me that I might be too chicken to do that. So why not have actors portray the people that I’m talking about?”
With the idea in place, Rodricks chose a friend, Will Schwarz, as director. The pair worked together when Rodricks hosted a television show on WMAR Channel 2.
Schwarz had no prior theater production when Rodricks asked him to direct, but said there was no question he would do it. Schwarz is uncertain whether he will direct the newest play.
“Dan is such a great chronicler of Baltimore culture, he appreciates it and he loves it,” Schwarz said. “Dan has cracked the code of what Baltimore is about. He is a great writer and he has a great sense of irony and humor, which comes in handy in Baltimore. His plays are love letters to Baltimore.”
Baltimore, You Have No Idea will be reprised Dec. 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16 in the BMA’s Meyerhoff Auditorium, with many of the $27 tickets already spoken for. Baltimore Docket will be staged Feb. 9, 10, 16, 17, 2024, also at the BMA.
When Baltimore Docket ends, Rodricks said his wife has encouraged him to just focus on his journalism job, which is hard for someone who has juggled multiple media assignments for decades: writing columns; hosting on television and broadcasting on radio in multiple stints. He said he made no promises.
The one thing that Rodricks said he knows for sure is that he has no plans of retiring, although he has outlasted many of his contemporaries.
“I still like what I do and I’ve got so many more stories to tell.”
Ticket information about the plays of Dan Rodricks can be found at www.youhavenoidea.org