Q&A with the playwrights of PLAY/ground

Each quarter we bring you a Q&A with a featured playwright or theatre professional currently at work with The Theatre @ Boston Court. For this issue, we shared the love, and invited all four of our PLAY/ground playwrights to participate.  Enjoy!


BOSTON COURT: Given the ongoing controversy around teaching
Evolution, what inspired you to tackle this topic now in The Nature of
Mutation
?

JOHN WALCH: I’ve always been interested in Evolution as a topic, and
while researching an entirely different play, that involved dinosaurs,
aborigines, and Evolution, I ran across a footnote that referenced the
Victorian scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, also known as “Darwin’s
Bulldog.” So, I was initially curious about Huxley as the first defender of
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. I also am a big fan of creation myths
and am drawn by how various cultures, countries, and individuals define
how they came to be and who they are. At its core, that is what Darwin
provided — a scientific theory that explains how we came to be. Of
course, it flew in the face of what Western culture considered the Truth,
and sparks flew. In the center of those sparks, stood Huxley.
So, I brought that to the play and tried to write a proper historical drama
about Huxley and the first public debate over Evolution, but for the life of
me, I couldn’t do it. At the same time, the Intelligent Design movement
was beginning to make its own sparks — cautionary stickers were being
placed on biology textbooks in Georgia, Kansas was debating changing
their curriculum, a courtroom drama was brewing in Pennsylvania — and
frankly, I was more interested in the current “controversy” than the
settled one. And oddly, 150 years after the first public debate over
Evolution between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce, it made sense to rouse
the Bulldog to defend Darwin all over again. Only this time, it’s in
contemporary America where (depending on the polls you look at)
roughly 39% of the population believes in Evolution, 25% do not believe
in it, and the remaining 37% have no formed opinion. 150 years after
publication of the book, these numbers are shocking to me and made me
wonder about fundamental divisions in our culture. I wanted to write a
play where all three of these groups were respectfully represented. I also
felt it was important to involve students and characters without solidly
formed opinions, characters who are grappling with who they are and
their understanding of how they came to be.
BOSTON COURT: Breadcrumbs deals with old age and the loss of
memory. How did you come to decide what would be included in the play
and what would be purposely absent?

JENNIFER HALEY: I wrote the play to work like Alida’s memory – a
confusing patchwork through which she must figure out whether she can
trust again. I drew Beth as a potentially unscrupulous character and left
out scenes that might justify her actions, so that when Beth and Alida
disagree over a certain event, the audience does not know whether
Alida’s memory is tricking her or Beth is manipulating the situation.
Ironically, Beth is crucial to helping Alida sift through her memories and
unearth the point at which she lost her faith in people; every scene that
we do see involves Alida’s fight to regain this faith before she loses her
ability to comprehend it.

BOSTON COURT: The Awake is partially inspired by the philosophy
of Heraclitus. What attracted you to the Greek philosopher’s work, and
how specifically did you use his views to inform the play?

KEN URBAN: I began The Awake in a pretty odd way. I kept track of my
dreams for a few months. I’d wake up and grab this legal pad, write down
as much as I could remember of the dreams I had. I collected a lot of
stuff and noticed that three stories were emerging, however fragmented
and weird. From there, I started cutting up these sheets and taping them
together, and that became the first draft of the play with the three main
characters: Malcolm, Nate and Gabrielle. But it scared me. I didn’t know
what it was. Was it really a play? Along the way, I read the fragments of
Heraclitus. They are a quick read since all we have left of this PreSocratic
philosopher are a handful of fragments and aphorisms. I read
this one that really struck me: “Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen
sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.” And that’s what gave me
the courage to keep working at this weird little thing. It’s funny how so
many of H’s fragments speak to the journey these three characters go on
in the play: “The waking have one world in common. Sleepers meanwhile
turn aside, each into a darkness of his own.” Jessica (Kubzansky, Co-
Artistic Director, The Theatre @ Boston Court) told me she thought the
play captures the way our brain works, and I think that’s right. I have
Heraclitus and an overactive unconscious to thank for this play.

BOSTON COURT: The Storytelling Ability of a Boy deals with notion
of how we story our lives. What was your development process on this
piece and how did the story itself evolve?

CARTER W. LEWIS: It started with the wicked subject of prose narrative
in plays. When a young student writer comes into my class, he/she wants
to write prose narrative that is spoken out loud – i.e. prose narrative
crammed into dialogue form. I, of course tell them, dialogue is not prose,
true dialogue is behavior and strategy – characters talking in order to get
what we want. So I wanted to play with the notion a little and The
Storytelling Ability of a Boy
became a play about storytelling, which is
prose narrative. By my own definition, I’ve written a very bad play. If I
were my own student, I’d give myself a big whopping F, a couple of years
of detention and take away my financial aid.

PECK: Acid rain refluxing inside of him – he was at the tipping point
of change – is he the narrative or is he the story? – change change
changing – crunchabaloo – bones breaking –crack – he could fight
or ride the story out –

“Is he the narrative or is he the story?” Hopefully Peck is both. He is
damaged goods looking for salvation in his storytelling ability. But he’s
also the story itself. He narrates his own life as he lives it.

DORA: He yelled at me – he was nuts, he kept, like, narrating at me.
CAITLIN: Narrating at you?
DORA: Yeah, I mean, what the hell do you do with that?!

To complicate the situation, I gave the play its own narrator, their
teacher, Caitlin. As the action progresses, Peck and Caitlin struggle for
control of the play itself, they fight to take ownership of the play I’ve
written. In defense of my “very bad play” and my big whopping F – I
would like to suggest that, in our heads, we all narrate our own lives. We
all premeditate our actions with an emotional/intellectual ongoing story
of ourselves that precludes our living. We actively “subliminalize” our
lives through internal narrative. And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

**

For more information about PLAY/ground click here or call 626-683-6886 to make a reservation.

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