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Professor Emeritus Douglas Whaley finds success as playwright with The Turkey Men

December 11, 2019 | Faculty

A law professor for more than half his life, Douglas Whaley’s passion has almost always been teaching. However, since retiring from full-time teaching in 2004, he has pursued his other passion; the theatre.

Whaley has acted in or produced more than 20 plays in the last 15 years. His most recent work, The Turkey Men, was his debut as a playwright.

Based in 2016, The Turkey Men features two gay ex-Civil War soldiers living as ghosts in their now-abandoned turkey farm in central Ohio. When two adults drag in a teenage lesbian in an effort to turn her straight, Whaley’s main characters Alex and Web must decide whether or not to get involved.

The idea first came to Whaley after reading a 2011 Columbus Dispatch article about two soldiers – one confederate and one union – who met at Camp Chase, a confederate prison near Columbus, and then formed a life together for 57 years, being buried next to each other in Mount Sterling.

After finishing the script in 2016, Whaley had the play picked up by the Evolution Theatre Company, an LGBTQ theatre company based in central Ohio. With his husband David Allen Vargo serving as the director, The Turkey Men debuted in October of 2019 as the final show produced by Evolution in their 2019 season. After eight shows, the reviews – including one from the Columbus Dispatch – were glowing.

“When the reviews came in, they looked like David and I had written them,” Whaley, who joined the faculty at Moritz in 1976, said. “It was the greatest thrill of my life.”

The support for The Turkey Men and Professor Whaley didn’t just come from the media. Whaley said that in the two weeks the play ran, the theater had 20 visitors from out of state and also multiple colleagues of Whaley’s from Moritz.

“Ric Simmons and his wife and Steve Hueffner and his wife came one night and there were some other Moritz people that were there too,” Whaley said. “That part was very nice.”

Now that the debut of The Turkey Men has come and gone, Whaley said there has been some early interest in the play being picked up again. He said theaters in Indianapolis and Fort Lauderdale have shown interest, and that he hopes the play will continue to have legs moving forward.

“I don’t care to make money off of this. I’m 76, I’ll die not long from now,” he joked. “But I would love for that play to go on.”

As for what’s next, Professor Whaley said he is focused on his academic work. He is currently re-writing four case books and preparing to teach two spring courses in 2020. While playwriting is on the backburner for now, Whaley said he is proud of what he has accomplished with The Turkey Men.

“Great things have happened in my life and I have lived about as good a life as you could live,” said Whaley, who has been an activist for the LGBTQ community for decades. “And The Turkey Men is the cherry on top of it all.”