Entertainment » Theatre

Magic and... Fascism? :: Lila Rose Kaplan Talks Off the Grid's Collaborative 'Devised' Play 'The Weird'

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 22, 2017

If you happened to attend the Elliot Norton Award-winning production of Sarah Kane's play "Blasted" last year, you no doubt remember it -- perhaps all too well. That production was brought to Boston audiences by Off the Grid Theatre Company and directed by prolific actor and playwright John Kuntz.

Now Kuntz has joined forces with three other area playwrights -- Kirsten Greenidge, Obehi Janice, and Lila Rose Kaplan -- to create... or rather, "devise"... a new play, "The Weird."



Given the play's enigmatic trailer -- a black and white fantasia loaded with provocative imagery that includes people munching apples (the Biblical take of Adam and Eve?), a crowd with raised hands (a too-frequent, and chilling, image these days), and a pair of feet that suddenly lift off the ground in what looks to be an act of levitation -- one might expect this is going to be difficult project to describe or define. EDGE approached one of the collaborators, Lila Rose Kaplan, for an interview, looking for clues as to just what she and the others have got in store.


EDGE: Off the Grid has been around for a couple of years now - is this your first project with them?

Lila Rose Kaplan: This is my first project with Off The Grid. I met the wonderful Alexis Scheer when she acted in a reading of my play "We All Fall Down" at The Huntington. We clicked and then she asked me to be part of this project. I was thrilled!

EDGE: "The Weird" is a "devised" play - what does that mean? Are you and the other writers - Kirsten Greenidge, John Kuntz, and Obehi Janice - partners in creating one story, or are you adopting an anthology approach, creating four short plays?

Lila Rose Kaplan: I believe we're inventing what it means by doing it. (Which is always the best way to discover.)

In June, Steve (the director) held a series of devising workshops with the actors. The playwrights were invited to be there to witness and participate. During these workshops, Steve and the ensemble explored different themes, movement motifs, and theatrical moments inspired by Alexis' prompt of colliding Magic and Fascism as a way to consider our present political moment. The workshops yielded a ton of potential play ingredients in the form of lists and video footage of movement pieces. Those were shared with the playwrights, and we were asked to write short dramatic prices inspired by these ingredients.

Everyone has been working solo, so the plays are all very different. There are visceral thematic threads that tie the plays together, but the worlds, characters, language and tone are all quite different. I'm excited and curious to see how the pieces live together on stage.

EDGE: I wonder whether the role Kira Rockwell, the dramaturg for "The Weird," plays in the devising of this play? That is to say, is she taking a larger or more prominent role in the play's creation than would be usual?

Lila Rose Kaplan: Kira's been coordinating between the playwrights and the rest of the creative team. I'm curious to see how her role expands now that we've started rehearsal.

EDGE: How did your four playwrights end up working together on this project?

Lila Rose Kaplan: Alexis invited us. It's a dynamic quartet as our voices are so different and I know we're all psyched to be creating something together. I imagine we're four composers writing variations of the same theme for a magnificent orchestra of actors.

EDGE: The Off the Grid website and the press release for "The Weird" are very intriguing in that there is absolutely nothing offered about the plot(s) or story(ies) of the play. But I theorize the title lends a clue - an earlier meaning for "weird" refers to the supernatural, possibly to witchcraft. Am I close with this guess?

Lila Rose Kaplan: I was drawn to the project because Alexis framed it as an exploration of Magic and Fascism as a way to look at our current political moment. I believe she said something like, "We grew up on Harry Potter, we learned about Fascism through Magic," and I was hooked.

We are in a troubling moment, and it's easy to want to escape it. I was interested in this project because it demanded I look right at this moment, but through a magical lens. Often we need to tilt reality in order to see it better. I believe that's one of the purposes of art.

I don't want to give too much away about the world we've created with "The Weird," but yes, there are witches, witchy things, ordinary things turned magical and magical things turned ordinary. There's oppression and there's rebellion. There are complex questions about who is doing the oppressing and whose voice really counts right now. All four playwrights use the questions and problems of magic to probe our current moment. The cast is mostly female and it's emboldening to see so many young women on stage creating something that's funny, feminist, theatrical and political all at the same time.

EDGE: Last season Off the Grid presented the harrowing (and very - well, weird) play "Blasted," by Sarah Kane. It's a challenging, horrific, and important play, and it won accolades from area critics, including two Elliot Norton awards. Is there any intention with "The Weird" to follow in those same footsteps - to shock and challenge audiences?

Lila Rose Kaplan: "The Weird" weaves together four distinct playwrights, one inventive director, an creative ensemble of actors and some awesome designers. Audiences will be surprised and entertained by "The Weird." It promises to be unlike anything you've seen before.

EDGE: As a writer, what are your pet themes, if any? Can you say much about how you might be bringing them into "The Weird?"

Lila Rose Kaplan: My plays shine light on the stories we don't tell about women. I'm interested in the heroines we don't often see on stage. My piece in "The Weird" is called "Letters From the Coven," and it is a series of letters home from young women at a Coven. It uses theatrical storytelling to illuminate the challenges young women face in our current political climate. Movement and text work together and a surprising story unfolds. It's a funny and chilling look at what it means to be a young woman today.

EDGE: What's coming up next for you after "The Weird?"

Lila Rose Kaplan: I'll be working on "the Villains' Supper Club," which is my new comedy about Motherhood and Villainy. It premieres at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in April 2018. Check it out! http://mrt.org/villains


"The Weird" will run Sept. 1 - 16 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. for tickets and more information, please visit http://www.offthegridtheatre.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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