Can you describe a theater moment that particularly inspired you?
When I was eighteen, I watched a modern adaptation of Medea in Paris that was in Dutch (I think it was Dutch) with French subtitles, meaning that my understanding of what was happening was already somewhat limited. The set was completely white and bare. Halfway through the play, without explanation, black ash began falling from the ceiling and collecting in this bare, all-white set. None of the actors acknowledged it, the plot increased in intensity–and when Medea went to kill her children (which in this adaptation was done by her setting the house on fire with her and the children inside), she gently laid her children down in the ash, buried them, and buried herself–all while a messenger told the stories of their deaths in the corner. And the ash continued falling.
What draws you to writing for theater?
I think there’s a certain kind of physical poetry that can only be experimented with in theater. There’s something particularly powerful about being able to transform physical objects/bodies into symbols and move them around in metaphors onstage (such as the example with Medea above), and that is a particular kind of experimentation I can only do with live theater, which is why I keep coming back to it. I think also something interesting that comes about from a writer like me–who is also a poet and prose-writer–trying to write for theatre is that because I tend to be so focused on the internal, the challenge of writing the external makes for an interesting dilemma. How do you express people’s insides with only their outsides at your disposal? How do you do it in a way that’s interesting and watchable and real, perhaps not necessarily on a literal plane, but a metaphorical one? I think it gets a bit messy at times, but I enjoy figuring it out.
Who are your primary artistic influences at this moment?
Well, with this play, and all plays–Sarah Kane, for sure. Whenever I get lost, I start reading Blasted just to get some rhythm in my bones. I feel the same way about Ed Albee, but it depends on the play… I guess I like quick, rhythmic, semi-disturbing, off-kilter dialogue. I’ve also been thinking about Cherríe Moraga recently as a reminder to fully dive into Latinidad. In this particular moment, I am daydreaming of hopping back into prose–I read Jhumpa Lahiri along with Kent Haruf and Alice Walker for the first time this summer, and they’re all calling me back to fiction (which is something I haven’t dipped my feet into for a long time). After this play, I’m thinking of writing something that makes me feel calm and alright with everything.
What inspired you to write the play for NYPR?
Towards the end of my sophomore year of college while feeling a bit sad about a break-up and procrastinating for an assignment, I randomly picked up a copy of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millenium I had laying around in my room–a book which collects the last six lectures Italo Calvino wrote on six aspects of writing before he died, and which I had read as a younger writer not only as a guide to words, but also as a guide to living. The first lecture is on lightess, and uses the Medusa-Perseus myth within Ovid’s Metamorphoses to talk about lightness vs. heaviness in writing. In order for Perseus to “be a hero” and use Medusa’s head to turn things to stone, Calvino says he must have the utmost lightness (i.e. he cannot look at her), something that additionally shines through in Metamorphoses during a specific chunk of text where, after using Medusa’s head to slay a monster, Perseus gently lays her head down on a bed of weeds and they turn into coral necklaces for the mermaids. One of my favorite books of all time also happens to be Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson–a “novel in verse” that reimagines Herakles and Geryon as young gay lovers. And so, I began thinking of the possibility of Perseus’ reverential treatment of Medusa’s head as the relic of a break-up–and as I began combing through Metamorphoses, I started finding more “evidence” for Perseus’ reverence for Medusa, a reverence that surpasses any kind of love he has for Andromeda (who he, interestingly, sees as a “work of art, carved out of stone”). I also began to envision a few specific pictures: one of the beheading as the breakup itself, another of the breakup being over a stillborn child birthed by Medusa in the form of a rock, and another of Medusa begging a blindfolded Perseus simply to be seen because she has never been seen before and all she wants is for him to look at her. Once I had that concept, I quickly realized I didn’t want to have Perseus onstage and blindfolded the whole time since that would be cumbersome–so I locked Medusa in a room divided by a one-way mirror. And I made the decision that one of the most difficult things about this play would be creating a Perseus that was kind–a Perseus driven by “lightness” that ultimately turns sour when faced with the prospect of sight. So I made him a sort of hero/therapist figure, one that gains her trust in order for her to let him in. And the play grew out from there.