Playwright Martha King De Silva first met her muse, actress Rebecca Baldwin, at the Source Theatre Festival in 1994. That's when Baldwin first performed one of King De Silva's 10-minute plays, a monologue in which a harried young woman tries to assure her newly engaged friend -- and, more urgently, herself -- that she finds satisfaction in the roles of wife and mother.

"I'd never seen her before and I just loved what she did and how she interpreted the piece," King De Silva recalls. "We became friends and she asked me to write more, so I did. I got really excited about the idea that an actress was interested in my work -- it was fun to have that motivation -- and we always sort of hoped that one day we'd be able to put something together that would get to a stage."

That dream comes true with Charter Theatre's premiere production of "Stretch Marks," a collection of seven King De Silva monologues, most written with Baldwin in mind. (The evening also includes the monologue that brought the two together in the first place.)

The show's title seems especially fitting as King De Silva recounts the occasionally painful process of taking seven monologues conceived as stand-alone pieces and creating a thematically unified play. If Baldwin was the muse present at the conception, Janet Stafford, King De Silva's former improv teacher, was the play's midwife.

"When Charter first offered to do the work, there was no organization to the pieces; it was kind of a mishmash of all my favorite monologues," King De Silva says. "It was really only in working with Janet at the last stage, about a month before we started rehearsal, that it really came together for me thematically."

"One of the things Janet helped me to discover was that on some level all of the characters are constantly measuring themselves against things and never succeeding. That was something that I hadn't seen but that seemed to really work well," King De Silva says.

The playwright also credits Stafford with shaping the flow of the evening. With her help, 10 monologues were winnowed down to seven to eliminate any repetitiveness in the characters and ensure sufficient variety in tone and mood. Stafford also suggested the addition of nonverbal interstitial scenes -- which King De Silva developed with "Stretch Marks" director John Healey -- to provide the transitions from one monologue to the next.

From muse to midwife, King De Silva treasures the creative partnerships that made "Stretch Marks" possible. "Writing is such a solitary effort," she says. "When it actually gets on the stage somewhere, the collaborative nature of working with actors and directors makes it really fun."

-- Dan Via

Rebecca Baldwin in "Stretch Marks."