BWW Interviews: STATE OF CONTROL a Comic Nightmare with a Message
For a man who says he doesn't remember most of his dreams, Columbus-based playwright Bill Cook spends a lot of time writing about nightmares. Cook describes his latest work, STATE OF CONTROL, as a comic nightmare.
"What I like about the dream form is that it makes plays very cinematic," says Cook, whose previous play LOVE IN THE AGE OF CLAMOUR had a character who was greatly influenced by nightmares. "Things move along in a very rapid clip (in dreams). Dreams offer a lot of comic possibilities. Wild things happen in dreams. I guess that has always appealed to me."
In STATE OF CONTROL, Cook's protagonist Stan feels like he's working in a nightmare. A buttoned-up, mild-mannered accountant, Stan (played by Ben Gorman) lands what he thinks is a dream job at a top investment firm but things suddenly come undone and his world is turned upside down. STATE OF CONTROL is produced by Cook and directed by Matt Hermes and the cast includes Amy Anderson, Mark Schuliger, Charles Farrow III and Randy Benge.
"Stan's like an actor who is suddenly on stage and he doesn't know what play he is in," says Cook, an associate professor in the Humanities Department at Columbus State Community College. "He has to fumble along, finding his way. What he discovers at the end (of the first act) is it's all been a setup and he's the fall guy."
The second act also finds Stan out of his element as the accountant lands in jail. Cook said part of this story was partly inspired by the time he spent working in a commissary in the Franklin County Jail in the 1970s.
Cook wanted the play to make a statement on the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 716 people out of every 100,000 people behind bars.
"People who are poor don't get a fair shake from the criminal justice system," Cook says. "There's all this pressure on prosecutors to get tough on crime. And the way to 'get tough on crime' is to convict as many people as possible.
"I think sometimes the process rides rough shod over people who are really innocent but they don't have the means to defend themselves. Justice shouldn't be something you can purchase. What I am pushing people toward is whether you are rich or poor, black or white, justice is justice."
Dramatic plays like THE KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN and NOT ABOUT NIGHTINGALES and movies like THE GREEN MILE and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION have been set in prison, but Cook hopes by presenting his message in a comedy might make more of an impact.
"If I were to present this in a serious way, I think it'd be much less effective," Cook says. "When something is outside that middle class point of view, it's hard for someone to make that leap to what it is like to be living in those kinds of conditions."
STATE OF CONTROL will be performed Sept. 27- 29 and Oct. 3-4 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center's Van Fleet Theater (549 Franklin Avenue). Tickets are $25 in advance through www.brownpapertickets.com or "Pay What You Want" in cash at the door. For more information, call 614.441.2929. Visit www.ab-theatrical.com for more details.