BWW Interview: Alex Tuchi of POLYPHEMUS at B3 Productions

BWW Interview: Alex Tuchi of POLYPHEMUS at B3 Productions
Alex Tuchi as Peter
in Brelby's 2017 production,
Peter and the Starcatcher

Truth is a power, and no one understands that more than the five teenage residents of the mental healing facility that Polyphemus surrounds.

Polyphemus is a slow burn about coping with the reality that, in the end, no one knows what normal really is; it tortuously blossoms into moments of true, unbridled honesty that we all give up too soon.

Playwright Alex Tuchi is a current undergraduate student at Boston University, studying Film and Television, Public Relations, and Arts Leadership. While recently breaking into film, Alex has been telling stories across a multitude of platforms, including theatre, journalism, and short fiction. Most recently, his short play Bastard Anderson was seen onstage as part of Brelby's Night of Shorts and his full length, Grimnismal (Or, The Magpie Play), was a finalist in the 2018 Latinx Theatre Commons Carnaval of New Latinx Work. You can catch his next short, Wandering, Whistling, at Space 55 as part of their Summertime Seven Series. He's also an actor; he'll next appear on stage in Brelby Theatre Company's joint production with Space 55, Playing Games, in August. Other selected credits include Melchior in Spring Awakening, Boy/Peter in Peter and the Starcatcher, and Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Polyphemus is directed by Ilana Lydia, who is a big fan of Tuchi's.

"I first met Alex as a member of Brelby's Write Club, a writing circle which met every month to give constructive criticism for new works," Lydia said. "Alex's contribution was extraordinary. His dialogue was sharp, his sense of humor was wicked, and his characters were compelling. His age boggled my mind. I had done some good work at 18 and 19 too, but not playwriting. It had always been my conviction that you needed a few years on you to be able to pull it off in a rounded, robust way. Alex single-handedly relieved me of that prejudice."

"Polyphemus is a play," Lydia continued, "that throws the audience in a position where they can't verify the stories being told to them. The characters do not share a common past, other than being locked up together, so no one knows if what the other says is true. Early in rehearsals, I had the actors think of a specific time in their past where they had wanted desperately to be believed and were telling the truth. Then I asked them for a different time when they wanted the same, but were lying through their teeth. We spent time discussing which is generally more effective, and why. Honesty is a tricky subject, and Alex does a magnificent job putting his characters in a cooking pot and seeing which will boil and which will jump out."

Currently visiting family in Spain, Alex took the time to talk with me.

JS: Alex, I've enjoyed you onstage several times, but this is the first play of yours I've read (and look forward to seeing). Why did you go into the world of mental illness with Polyphemus?

BWW Interview: Alex Tuchi of POLYPHEMUS at B3 Productions Alex Tuchi: I think Polyphemus evolved into what it is now because struggle with oneself has always been prevalent in my life, but it kind of peaked while writing the show. The full-length play was preceded by a single scene I wrote for a monthly writers' circle.

I was toying with the idea of having a character that spoke with full candor to see if it would be believable (because no one in real life always tells the truth). As I heard it read that afternoon, I felt myself falling in love with how I didn't have to work to decode the difference between what was being said and what the character actually meant; seeing the character able to be totally and unapologetically who they are brought me a kind of peace I hadn't felt in natural dialogue before.

But I'm also not one to make it easy on myself; later that evening, I figured that if I felt so good about hearing truth, there must be those on the other end of the spectrum, that felt bad to the same degree. In my mind, these people were confused and scared and would demonize the unfamiliar without giving it a chance. It's really easy to write someone off as mentally ill when you don't understand them, and it's often easier to do this to yourself when you can't reconcile who you are and who you want to be.

I'm a huge advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness, and part of that is shedding light on the atrocities of the stigma in the first place; people in the world of Polyphemus are sick, but instead of receiving treatment, they're treated like prisoners. All of these elements aligned in my mind to create a kind of drama I'd never seen before. I wouldn't say Polyphemus is a play about mental illness. Sure, it's an element, but I think it's a play about people. It's a play about self-discovery. Most of all, it's a play about truth.

Soren Kierkegaard said that "truth is a power," and just like any other power, it can be exercised over people in a lot of horrifying ways. I think there's a lot of parallels between that sentiment and how we view mental illness in the world today.

Polyphemus plays just four performances over two weekends, July 13th through the 21st. For tickets and more information, visit the SIC Sense website.

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