The premiere of Theatre Oxford’s “Heartbreak Henry” last week also marks the return of a notable former student, David Sheffield, to Oxford. Sheffield, with writing credits spanning from Saturday Night Live to many notable Eddie Murphy films, has brought a story of his freshman year and managerial position at a ’60s motel, through the form of a play.
Writing a play has been a long-time dream of the now Ovett native, and this is the first time he was able to do so.
“[The play] was far better than I ever dreamed it could be. Excellent production, the Ford Center by a talented crew and assembled a cast of 17 actors who did a fine job,” Sheffield said. “I’m just thrilled that I finally got to do it.”
Despite having an extensive career in Hollywood, Sheffield said he enjoyed this project because he was able to do it for himself.
“This project was completely personal and different in that I wasn’t being paid. And best of all, nobody was telling me what to do,” Sheffield said. “I had more fun doing this play than I have anything else I’ve ever worked on.”
Other members of the cast and crew also talk highly about Sheffield’s return, including assistant director Naomi Levin.
“It was a whole lot of fun. He absolutely loved his return to Oxford. He made a comment that – he never really felt at home anywhere – he was in New York and felt out of place, Hollywood never felt quite right – and while he was here he mentioned that since he arrived – he finally felt at home,” Levin said.
Levin also spoke on how she was factored into the play as an assistant director, which was an opportunity she said she enjoyed.
“I was pretty much an equal when it came to what we did,” Levin said. “He always conferred with me and we would reach an agreement together.”
Larry Wells, a friend of Sheffield’s since 2004, spoke highly of the success of the play’s run, as well as Sheffield’s ability to bring Oxford in the ’60s back to life.
“This was truly an Oxford ‘happening’ from the auditions to the performances to the reception on opening night,” Wells said. “The older members of the audience remembered the Henry when it was a resident hotel. We loved the scenes and the characters. Sheffield brought 1967 Oxford roaring back to life.”
As for future plans, many expect that this will not be Scheffield’s only return to the stage, or to Oxford. “I think you might see more of Mr. Sheffield in the years to come,” Levin said. “ He was very impressed with Theatre Oxford and the group of people who make these shows a reality.”
Sheffield also mentions that he is ready to tell more Mississippi-based stories. He said in the past, he was always told to write stories based in New York or Los Angeles, but now feels more compelled to write stories that are closer to home.
“Now I just want to concentrate on doing things that I want to write about people that I know and appreciate. And that includes a lot of Mississippians that met over the years,” Sheffield said.