Local actor to read exchanges between his younger self and killer
Hampton Union, January 7, 2014
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Chris Bradley in a scene as the
Narrator in “A Christmas Story,”
at Seacoast Repertory Theatre
Here's an interesting premise for a film: A lonely, 14-year-old gay boy becomes pen pals with a 23-year-old female who is a convicted killer. The fact that it is based on real life makes it all the more interesting.
The name emblazoned across the envelope in hot pink and artful cursive is Chris Bradley, today a 37-year-old company actor at Seacoast Repertory Theatre. The sender is Pamela Smart, then in her early 20s, a media coordinator at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, convicted of murdering her husband, Gregg Smart, and sentenced to life in prison in 1991.
Bradley shared a few of Smart's letters for the first time publicly in 2013, in "I Could Just Diary," at Seacoast Repertory Theatre and, as they say, "the crowd went wild," the wheels turned, and "Pame," (Smart's spelling), the film project was born.
"I can't even explain; people were laughing so loud," Bradley said. "Rae (Dawn Chong) was in the audience ... and here we are today."
Chong, an award-winning actress ("Quest for Fire," "The Color Purple" and "Commando"), and Bradley came to an agreement regarding the film. Chong is producing "Pame," which will feature Bradley telling his story and reading select letters. Knate Higgins, "Diary's" producer and Rep company member, will direct.
The exchange between Smart and Bradley started in 1992, after her conviction. Bradley was an eighth-grader in Newburyport, Mass. His initial reasons for writing were mixed, he said, starting with the fact he was a lonely, lost boy.
"At the time (the murder) was a featured scandal and everyone was so against her. A friend and I decided to be contrary," he said, adding neither understood the gravity of the situation. "We decided to support her."
Chris Bradley at the age he became pen
pals with Pamela Smart.
At 14, he believed Smart was innocent. He wrote her a letter of support. Smart responded kindly and the pen pal friendship began and continued through Bradley's senior year.
At 14, he was a confused, depressed, lonely child looking to be accepted, Bradley said. He couldn't foresee the friendship when he first wrote to her, but she was kind and understanding and he was in a rough place.
"It's funny to look back into the mind of an awkward, gay teen in the '90s. ... She was my friend. That's the messed-up part, but she was my friend and I didn't have many, and she listened and helped me through a lot — well, if you didn't believe she was a convicted criminal." He laughed and added writing to someone in jail is fluky behavior.
"It's odd, but I'm odd," he said.
"I think my mom was honestly glad I was writing her, that I was doing something — anything — and that I was happy," he added. "I came from a very 'Roseanne'-like family."
The film will consist of Bradley explaining the situation and reading letters, "and it will be really funny," Chong said.
"Not to make fun of Chris or Pame, it's the insanity of it," she said. "She's serving a life sentence and she's giving sex and love advice to this 14-year-old gay boy!
"It's funny and touching and she's completely insane, and you're crying laughing! It's twisted. I cannot wait," Chong said.
Higgins knew of the letters long before Bradley shared them. Eventually, over a few drinks, his friend read excerpts.
"He'd read them and I would sit with my mouth agape," Higgins said. "All the documents are hand-stamped from the state pen (penitentiary), all written to him. It's mind-blowing. I remember thinking 'this is something extremely special.'"
The letters are humorous because of content and their surreal value. They run the gamut, happy to sad and, over time, become quite personal, Higgins said. Eventually, "they're pretty awful" after she's sent to federal prison.
The film project launched the "Pame" Kickstarter campaign last week for $2,000, but is shooting for $15,000 or more. The participants hope to film at the Rep in the spring.
"There's so many sides of this whole thing that makes it amazing," Bradley said. "It's definitely hilarious but it's sentimental realism, too. I really want to make sure, even if it's fun and we're doing it light, I just want people to know she was a friend, who I cared about and cared about me. On the other hand, she did sleep with a student and had the student kill her husband — so there you go! It's all so bizarre."