When Cleveland native Matt Ratner first saw Stephen Belber's play Match performed on Broadway in 2004, he told Belber he ought to make it into a feature-length film.
"I told him he was crazy," recalls Belber, who, along with Ratner and star Matthew Lillard, will attend a special benefit screening and Q&A at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Cedar Lee Theatre. "Three or four years later I directed my first film. I wanted something that would be focused and laser-like and really teach me how to direct on a smaller palette with more intense performances. This seemed like a great thing. I took a stab at it. Because it's actor friendly, it has three decent parts [for actors]. Of all the stuff I've been writing, this one popped forward."
The story centers on Tobi (Patrick Stewart), a ballet teacher, who must confront his past after Lisa (Carla Gugino) and her husband (Lillard) pay an unexpected visit. Lisa interviews Tobi for what she says is her dissertation. Eventually, a series of revelations makes it apparent that Mark and Lisa have come to Tobi under false pretenses.
Belber says he based the character of Tobi on Alphonse Poulin, a professor of ballet at Juilliard School.
"He got a job at Juilliard where my wife worked, and many years later I went to dinner at his apartment in Inwood, a section of Manhattan," Belber recalls. "He told tales of his life in his arts and his life as a dancer and teacher. It's one of those people you meet and you go, 'This guy's life has to be dramatized.' He was so intense and funny and beautiful. I wrote down several of the anecdotes and about a year later, I found a plot."
It's been 10 years since the play made its debut, but the story still seems relevant. That's because the movie is about "family and what constitutes family in a modern world," says Belber.
"More so, it's about choices we all make and what the costs are and what is selfish and what is self-less and the gray line that sometimes divides the two," he says. "You don't have to be a parent. You don't have to be an artist. You just have to be someone who is faced with human decisions, which we all are. That's my hope, that people will find their way through that."