Playwright Daniel Dean Darst (AKA Danny Darst) has been brewing the music, lyrics and script for his semi-autobiographical play, EXIT 10, for at least twenty-five years, more likely his whole life. With a guitar slung over his shoulder and a history of freight trains, truck stops, and logging camps, he has always been able to weave a story and a song.
“I’ve been called a truck driver, a hash slinger and a 10-cent con man,” said Danny. “I would have been the guy who would have stolen your hubcaps and forgot one of them. So with that kind of background, I quite easily migrated to the music industry. The seed for the play started in writing songs. To be more specific, it was the poem.”
EXIT 10 may have already begun to germinate by the time he made his theater debut in 1981 portraying a musician in the play, 2 By South, under the direction of Robert Altman. That was the beginning of a close personal relationship that lasted until Altman’s death in 2006.
Michael Altman first read EXIT 10 in about 1995. He was working on location on his father’s film, Kansas City, in the director’s hometown, when Danny came to visit.
“Danny was this elusive, enigmatic character that would kind of blow into town. Early on, I was enamored of his music,” said Michael. “My dad loved him. They would talk philosophy and drink together and carry on. My dad had a lot of acquaintances and very few really close friends. Danny was one of those guys who after everybody went down, they would sit up and talk for hours. He was my dad’s confidant more than mine.”
But Michael was kind of a second-generation kindred spirit. He and Danny had a lot in common: poetry, songwriting, playing guitar, and a love of the open road.
“We’ve always had that kind of rapport,” said Michael. “The wink and a nudge, knowing about truck stops and rest areas learning how to get around.”
“I had been writing poetry for years and showed Danny some of my stuff. He asked me if I wanted to read his play,” recounts Michael. “When I read his script, I was floored! I was completely flabbergasted.”
Impassioned by the work, Michael offered to help Danny find a director and a theater. He told him he would produce EXIT 10. Life led them in different directions though a pact had been made. They stayed in touch with the understanding that this was one of those “someday, somehow” kinds of things.
“I have a history of procrastination,” said Danny. “On the other hand, I can be pretty aggressive. I seem to do better when I let things roll out.”
“This went on for some 15 years,” said Michael. “It was always, ‘I just got to put this roof on a house, but next April, get ready.’ Then it was, ‘I’ll be out there in January.’ I’d just say, ‘Okay, we’ll see you when you get here.’”
Late in 2009, Danny was finally ready to see his longtime reverie on stage. Timing couldn’t have been better. Michael had just become available for his next project on the day he got the call. Danny, however, had an important stipulation.
“There’s only one thing,” Danny told his friend. “You’re going to have to direct. I wouldn’t trust anybody else to do it.”
The play was still in its original form. Darst and Altman immediately began to hone the work that will arrive as EXIT 10 in its World Premiere at Theater 68 in Hollywood. As requested, Michael Altman makes his directorial debut. He produces with his wife, Karon Altman. This is Daniel Dean Darst’s first play.
Danny teamed up with engineer/producer Ron “Snake” Reynolds, renowned stand-up bass player Mike Webber and percussionist Kenny Malone and some other formidable Nashville cats to record the album, “DANNY DARST (songs from EXIT 10 the play).”
“I just say it’s a truck stop garage,” said Danny of his play. “If somebody wants to think it’s music or theater, that’s fine because it is indeed in a theater and it is a show. To me, it’s a truck stop garage.”
“I agree with Bob Altman. He said we were fakes,” he continued. “But I can tell you this. The only thing that I’m really good at that no one else can beat me at -- no one, and I’m 63 -- nobody can beat me at changing a tire. I’m the best.”
Robert Altman has been gone for some four years now. For some reason, he never got a chance to read EXIT 10. And maybe it was because it was meant to be the way it is, two road warriors beguiling the audience with a romantic microcosm that has long been their fascination and still exists for those who know where to find it.