BWW Interview: Next Iteration Theater Brings New Political Drama THE BABY to MATCH
"The personal is political," wrote radical feminist Carol Hanisch. Next Iteration Theater Company explores this concept in theatrical form with its world premiere of THE BABY, a political and family drama by Houston and London-based playwright Lisa Boss Omlie.
THE BABY tells the story of 28-year-old Charlie Mulroney. Charlie is running for governor and, like George W. Bush and JFK before him, he's really rich and politics are in his blood. He's positioned for success. But like Jeb Bush, Charlie squanders his advantages with an ill-timed, foot-in-mouth statement on par with current presidential candidate Donald Trump's infamous claim that Mexican immigrants are rapists. Then, as Jeb would say, "stuff happens."
Penny, an investigative reporter for the Chronicle, uncovers a tragedy that devastates not only Charlie's political career but the entire Mulroney family.
BroadwayWorld talks to Next Iteration Theater Company artistic director and BABY's director dianne k. webb as well as actors Gabriel Regojo (Charlie) and Mai Le (Penny) about bringing the brand new play to the stage.
BroadwayWorld: This is a question to you all, is it difficult to work on an original work? It seems like you all set the standard for any other companies that decide to mount the play.
Mai Le: It's actually really refreshing. Our work is our own; there is (literally) no way we're echoing a past company's work or blueprints in our performance, and I can't think of anyone better than Dianne [K. Webb] to direct us. This script, these characters - she gets it, and she gets them. She is thoroughly eloquent in her direction, and these characters wouldn't be who they are, these multifaceted people, without her guidance. So yes, we are setting the standard for future productions, but we have quite the show to be proud of.
And alongside that, it's nice to not experience the inverse - performing a play that's been performed into the ground, whose playwright has passed. We have the privilege of channeling Lisa Omlie through email! So if there's ever a minute discrepancy, or we feel a certain line of exposition is missing, we have the pleasure of contacting her, receiving her input as well as her blessing in the changes. It's been a treat to see the skeleton change to better fit the body.
BroadwayWorld: Mai and Gabriel, can you give me more information on your characters?
Mai Le: Penny is a reporter for the Chronicle, and she is the only person in the play who is unaffiliated, at least politically, with Charlie. The audience sort of gets to see the world of the Mulroney's through her eyes. She's the outsider who comes in, and she gets to stir the pot and watch what happens with no personal stake in their family matters or their political image.
Gabriel Regojo: The way I conceived Charlie is odd. I'm very much the opposite of him so when beginning work on him, I had to look for the similarities in our character to help build an honest connection. As it stands now, I feel like Charlie is a well-meaning individual. He has a good heart and strong morals. And I could identify with that so I latched onto that.
BroadwayWorld: I see that the production has an original score. What does that add?
dianne k. webb: I love working with artists in all arenas, and I also believe that music creates an incredible layer of added depth in performance pieces. [C]omposers like Garrick Gonzales, our composer, create an added dimension for me, early on, as I am studying the play because they often see and interpret life through the lens of music.
Garrick has taken three instruments--a cello, violin, and flute--and underscored them with piano to highlight the three main female characters in the play. He has created a moving piece of music that interweaves the themes of the women and the play itself that I can place in and out of the story as I see fit. How lucky for us that we have him!
BroadwayWorld: Tayyba [Maya Kanwal, Managing Director for Next Iteration Theater Company] said [in a conversation outside of the interview] that the production is relevant to our current political climate. How so?
dianne k. webb: The play was inspired by a misstatement by a senatorial candidate from another state a few years ago, about women's bodies, pregnancy and abortion. That someone could be running for national office and still hold such a deep ignorance of how bodies work, and the particular crisis caused by rape and a subsequent pregnancy was shocking at best. Omlie wrote this play in an attempt, I believe, to offer audiences a chance to process more realistically and empathically about such traumatic events in a woman's life and all those it affects. [Editor's note: During his 2012 run for Senate, former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) said in an interview with KTVI-TV, "It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy resulting from rape is] really rare ... If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."]
BroadwayWorld: What is this political climate's connection to the production? And vice versa?
Mai Le: I believe there is this prevalent notion in politics that issues are either black or white, and people are so quick to yell their arguments without ever thinking too deeply about the stances they take. They shut their minds, their ears, and their hearts to the opposition, because it's easy to fall into a familiar, singular mindset. I do personally think people make choices, however informed or misinformed those choices may be, because they believe it's or the best decision or the right thing to do.
At its core, THE BABY is not about picking between the left or the right side of politics. It's about a family trying to recover from a their worst nightmare and making, what they perceive as, the right decisions to save themselves from being so despairingly broken. This play opens the doors for sympathetic thinking. "What would I do if this happened to me?" "What if this happened to someone I know?" "How easy could this have happened to anyone?" Imagine if we could have more of that in the media for politics today!
BroadwayWorld: Do you all have any opinion on our current political climate?
Mai Le: As Penny says, "Of course. I'm only human."
dianne k. webb: But like our character Penny, it is not about my opinion, but about the facts. And there are always facts. Women, people, make hard choices in a wide variety of circumstances and it is not up to anyone to decide for them, or to judge their decisions. If I have not walked in their shoes, and of course I have not, I should certainly not be throwing stones.
Gabriel Regojo: This play's relevance, I think, stems from its stance on moral and political absolutism. Modern politics has turned into a very line in the sand type of game which reinforces an Us versus Them mentality. It creates these clearly defined lines when grey is much more the truth of the matter. And what this play does well is that it doesn't cram an opinion down your throat but offers the truth and asks you to look at its question objectively.
BroadwayWorld: What is the value of a production like this?
dianne k. webb: I believe in our freedoms in this country, yours and mine, whether we agree or disagree. I do not like the pressure to conform to a single ethic or moral held by someone who may not be like me at all and that is so prevalent today. Almost akin to witch-hunting, women's privacy and individual rights are often ignored or worse, disregarded. And that is never okay with me. THE BABY takes an incredibly difficult issue to talk about, thrusts it into the spotlight, and reveals how grey this issue can be through dynamic, visual, in-your-face storytelling. And it never once picks a definite side.
THE BABY previews March 10. Performances are March 11-19. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesday, March 16; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 13; 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 14. MATCH/ MATCHBOX 3, 3400 Main St. 713-521-4533. matchouston.org/events/baby-lisa-boss-omile. Pay-what-you-can (suggested price $25).
Following the 8 p.m. March 11 performance, NITC will hold a post-show reception with the playwright and cast in the MATCH lobby.