‘The Night Watcher’ is work in progress

Allowing the audience to experience the journey a play takes from inception to performance is the idea behind La Jolla Playhouse’s Page To Stage development workshop. Currently in its seventh year, the program involves examining and reworking a play through a process that includes audience participation.

“The Night Watcher,” which opened Tuesday, is the first Page To Stage production of the 2008/2009 Season.

The one-woman show was written by and stars Obie Award-winning and Tony-nominated Charlayne Woodard. This marks the first time she has returned to the Playhouse since 1999, when her first solo play - “Pretty Fire” - premiered.

In “The Night Watcher,” she portrays an “auntie” who sees the world of her 30 nieces and nephews slightly different than a parent. Woodard, who has been on “Law and Order” and “ER,” creates new opportunities for their relationships while opening new doors.

Director Robert Egan, who is also the artistic director of the Ojai Playwrights Conference and a producing director at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, directs Woodard in this production. He first worked on the play during the Ojai Playwrights Conference. The two-week process finished with a reading, but Egan said “The Night Watcher” has changed drastically since then.

“Page to Stage is a collaborative process, but ultimately Charlayne’s in charge,” Egan said. “In the end, it’s her piece and she wouldn’t be bringing it into a process like this if she wasn’t seeking out a collaboration of fine artists. Certainly she has that here with dramaturges, designers and composers.”

Beyond considering this kind of evolutionary method “a playwright’s dream,” Woodard is passionate about the story itself.

“‘The Night Watcher’ is a play about a sort-of motherhood,” Woodard said in the Playhouse’s first release about the production. “Some of us are put here to have these kids in the way that I have them.”

Although Woodard has no children of her own, she found herself consumed by her extended family and realized people with no kids can serve great purpose in the lives of other people’s children. That’s when the idea to write about her “kids” sprang into action.

“The Night Watcher” runs through July 27 at the Mandell Weiss Forum. More information: (858) 550-1010,