BWW Interviews: Aleks Merilo Talks EXIT 27
In celebration of its fourth season, Sanguine Theatre Company will produce EXIT 27, a new work by award-winning playwright, Aleks Merilo and directed by Mark Karafin. Based on a true story, EXIT 27 combines the themes of rejection, survival, and redemption in exploration of the human experience. As the overwhelming winner of Sanguine's highly competitive playwriting competition, EXIT 27 brings a stirring perspective of raw human nature in its NYC premiere. In anticipation of the play's opening, BroadwayWorld chatted with Aleks Merilo about the play.
BWW: What was the inception for EXIT 27?
Aleks Merilo: I spent a summer working at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is only about 40 miles from Hurricane and Colorado City, the areas featured in this play. The polygamist communities nearby were no secret, but what I started noticing were the disheveled young men wandering around the town. I started asking questions and I learned that they were simply called "The lost boys." They were exiles from those polygamist communities, with absolutely no one to turn to.
Every time I told someone what I'd learned about the FLDS or the Lost Boys, the response would be "That can't be true." Everything seemed so fascinatingly surreal. For me, it always seemed to come back to the children growing up in this world. How can you raise a child in a world where music is evil? Where dogs are killed for no reason? Where the color red is forbidden? Where a 14-year-old girl might be married to a man 4 times her age? Where a 14-year-old boy could be banished for life for bringing the wrong girl flowers?
BWW: Why did you feel like this was a story that needed to be told?
Aleks Merilo: I felt that morality was absolutely contradicted for these boys. They were told for their entire lives that the outside world was evil, and then suddenly they were part of it. How do you live in a world that you believe is utterly evil? How do you live in a world when you are told that you have no good left in you?
BWW: How did you research EXIT 27?
Aleks Merilo: There was so little information available about these boys, I eventually just drove to Hurricane and started asking around. The first question I would ask was "Are you from the Creek?" If a boy was willing to talk, my next question would be "Why did you leave?" This was a question with horrifying answers at times. Some of the lines from the play are the boy's answers, nearly verbatim.
I admit, I did actually make a few trips to Colorado City itself, the world capital of polygamy. It's a town that is deliberately isolated, and it became clear very quickly that we were not welcome. It felt like a different country. The Prophet's house has turrets like a cheap Disneyland knock-off, and people watched us as we walked around.
BWW: Many moments, especially in the second act, are gut-wrenchingly visceral. How did you craft such excellent theatrical moments?
Aleks Merilo: What a flattering question! I had a wonderful professor at UCLA, Gary Gardener, who passed away very recently. One of his key lessons was "Nobody thinks they are a villain." He taught me to focus on characters that I might feel are reprehensible, and try to find the humanity in them. When I was writing the confrontation scene between Ryker and The Outsider, I kept telling myself that "Ryker thinks he is a hero." No matter how ugly his choices are, he is making them out of love. And for him, love and violence can be the same thing.
BWW: Overall, what was the writing process like for EXIT 27?
Aleks Merilo: The vast majority of the script was actually written in the Czech Republic at Karlova University under the mentorship of playwright Claudia Barnett. I was given a fellowship and four weeks to write in a castle. Being in such an innately theatrical place was inspiring, and the pressure cooker deadline was actually the best motivation for me to make tough choices with the script.
BWW: Audiences in Houston loved EXIT 27. What do you hope the New York audiences take from the show?
Aleks Merilo: I think the universal question that the Lost Boys have to answer for themselves is "What does it mean to be good?" I hope this play makes the audience ask themselves the same thing.
BWW: What advice do you have for other aspiring playwrights?
Aleks Merilo: Take an acting class. I think writing and acting actually share the same creative muscles and require the same questions - Who is this character, what makes them the way they are? When I start writing a play, the first question I always ask myself is "If I were an actor, would I want to play this part?"
EXIT 27 will run November 7-17, 2013 at the Medicine Show Theatre on West 52nd Street between 11th and 12th avenues. Performances are November 7-9 at 8pm, November 13-16 at 8pm, and November 10 and 17 at 3pm. For more information about the show, visit www.sanguinenyc.com, or call: (281) 946-9563. For questions about tickets, email: email@example.com.