Playright Aaron Randolph III, right, is questioned by characters played by Kyle DeFauw and Molly Conrad in Randolph's original piece, “The Plagiarists,” opening next weekend at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Contributed photo

Warning: This article contains non-original material.

But then again, so does that TV show you saw last night, the book you read last week, the joke you told over coffee and the movie you'll see this weekend.

That's the concept behind "The Plagiarists," a student-written comedy-drama that will premiere next weekend at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

"It really did call the question of: Is there anything original under the sun, and how many of the things we claim as our own are really the inspiration of someone else?" said Corrine Johnson, the theater department chair and director of "The Plagiarists," opening next weekend. "And how closely are those imitations?"

"The Plagiarists" is written by Aaron Randolph III, a St. Ambrose student who received a music degree in 2002 and returned to add bachelor's degrees in theater and computer networking when he graduates in May.

Independently studying playwriting with Johnson, Randolph wrote the comedy based on news stories about a photographer whose art was pictures of paintings.

"When you tell people that, it kind of raises some eyebrows," Randolph said. "My hope is that people leave with more questions than they came in with. I want this play to be provocative."

Although not writing the play for himself, he was cast in the lead role of an artist who paints replicas of classics.

It's caused Randolph and Johnson to consider the originality of their own work.

"Even when a playwright doesn't literally take lines from another play or take ideas or scenes, it's inevitable you're going to copy, to a certain degree, other peoples' works," Randolph said.

"Why is that any less work than creating all that art yourself?" he added.

Johnson said she's come to agree with the main character during the rehearsal process.

"I had that knee-jerk reaction that ... the character who inspired this play was a hack. The more and more that I studied him and worked on this play, I thought, ‘If he's a hack, so am I.'

"I don't write plays. When I act, I say other peoples' words. When I direct, I take actors who have their own ideas and meld them with another's words. What if I've seen a production before and am inspired by another director's moments?

"Then I put my name on the program and say it's my play?" she added.

Both Johnson and Randolph are Curtainbox Theatre Company members and have worked both onstage and behind the scenes.

Randolph was recognized for his acting last fall by the American Collegiate Theater Festival as one of 16 finalists among 300 contenders for its top honor.

He has slipped a red herring into his script.

"The play even plagiarizes other playwrights' work," he said.

"Legally," Johnson quickly added.