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For Potomac's Holsey, The Play's the Thing

24-year-old's play is staged in Baltimore.

In Ron Holsey's adult life he has been an advocate for educational and environmental reform in the Maryland General Assembly, a journalist, an actor, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a computer specialist who advises Internet users on their on-line dating profiles. He also writes poetry, and sings opera.

And he's only 24.

But these days, the play's the thing for Holsey, whose satire "The Best Christmas Murder Ever" opened at the Fells Point Corner Theater in Baltimore Aug. 11.

The play was one of the few selected for a staged reading at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival and was subsequently picked up by the Uncommon Voices Theater Company for a full production. It will run Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 28.

The honors are not new to Holsey. "The Best Christmas Murder Ever" was a winner in the Carolinas Contemporary Playwrights Festival in 2003 and he has had one-act plays and short films produced.

Still, the first full staging of a full-length play was more than enough to draw Holsey back to the East coast from his current home in Long Beach, Calif.

HOLSEY GREW UP in Potomac and attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring as part of its communications arts magnet program, graduating in 1999.

"He was kind of a Renaissance person," said John Mathwin, Holsey's journalism teacher at Blair, who retired in June. "He's sophisticated, [but] it wasn't the sort of sophistication that rubbed people the wrong way.

Mathwin said that Holsey was a Knight Ridder Business Scholar. The $40,000 Knight Ridder Scholarships have gone to only 36 people nationally since 1990.

Holsey never mentioned the scholarship — or any of the awards he's won — in a more than one-hour interview.

Mathwin, who described Holsey as enormously talented but modest, wasn't surprised.

"He was a regular guy," he said, "but when the occasion called for it, he was well beyond his years."

IN 1998, Holsey saw Maryland Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) speak at a public meeting at the Potomac Community Center. After the meeting, Holsey approached her and said he wanted to work on her campaign.

Cryor was immediately impressed.

"He’s just an extraordinary person. ... Smart and able," she said. "I was very proud of him, proud to have him in my district."

Holsey did work on Cryor's campaign. But the relationship didn't end there. Holsey took an interest in public policy and Cryor began picking him up from school and driving him to Annapolis to testify on House bills.

Holsey helped Cryor with her work on the Thornton Commission, which reshaped education funding in the state, and worked with Mathwin on opposing the Fairfax County Water Authority's bid to build a mid-channel intake pipe in the Potomac River.

Cryor said Holsey understood the nuances of the committee hearings and that legislators quickly came to treat him seriously, not as "some kid."

"I don’t know a field he would not do well in," she said. "As soon as he decides what he’s going to do with his life, he’ll be one of the famous ones."

HOLSEY MOVED on to Northwestern University, where he continued his work in journalism but also studied poetry and creative writing.

His senior year, he studied playwrighting with Wendy MacLeod, author of "The House of Yes." The class involved writing short plays every two weeks, each posing a different challenge. One assignment was a play with no dialogue. Another was to write all characters of the opposite sex. Holsey took to the challenges of the genre immediately.

"It forces you to be creative," he said. "You know you need to get from J to R, but you have everything else and that sticking point doesn’t come for a month. [And] one day you wake up and you realize how you’re going to do it — that feels really good. I love that part of it."

Holsey said that he writes from seed ideas, rather than starting with ideas for characters and letting the story develop, as some playwrights do. He points to contemporary playwrights like MacLeod, Christopher Durang, Patrick Marber, and David Mamet, as influences, but eschews the snobbishness of avant garde theater and some modern dramatic theory.

"I think that everything you need to know you can learn from Aristotle," he said, referring to "Poetics," the philosopher's work of dramatic theory. “It’s still the same rules that apply today.”

Holsey calls himself a "big listener" who pays attention to people's speech patterns and likes to hear about people's motivations.

He gets to do a lot of that in his southern California day job, helping on-line daters with their profiles through the consultancy eCyrano.com.

“It’s really enlightening,” he said, and he enjoys it, but he hopes to be able to focus on dramatic writing full-time.

He is currently working on a screenplay in the Emerging Writers Program at Terra Firma Films.