Eric Rosen's play, Lot's Wife, has gone through several iterations over the last two decades. It's a work that Rosen, the artistic director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, started in the early 1990s when he was in graduate school. It premieres this weekend in the Rep's first new works festival.
Structured as a play within a play, it has echoes of a personal tragedy, and 1930s noir as well as a nod to the cautionary Biblical tale of Lot’s wife, who turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back.
Rosen talked to KCUR about the process of bringing the work to the stage:
On asking someone else to direct:
"I've written nine plays. This is my ninth play, and it's the first time I haven't directed the play that I've written. So I've handed over the reins to a wonderful director named Joanie Schultz, so it's been oddly calm and really fun seeing images in my mind and things I've been thinking about forever come to life with these actors and this director and in this room [Copaken Stage], that's also so familiar to me because I work here all the time ...
"Primarily as a writer, just to be able to see it a little bit more clearly than if I'm in it. And that's the reason that I didn't want to direct it."
On the connection to the Biblical story of Lot's wife
"There is at its heart, a play that a playwright has written that's called Lot's Wife that is asking its characters never to look back, and warning them: 'Don't look back, don't look back.'
"And the play itself is about characters looking back on an elemental tragedy that has shaped all of their lives. And trying to make sense of what it's meant in the very near aftermath of it happening.
"So six months after a tragic death of a mother and a child, all the characters are reeling, trying to piece back their lives. They're all looking back and they risk being destroyed by that."
On layers of 'meta on meta'
"One of the great things about this project is the layers of kind of meta on meta. We have Rusty Sneary — who's the artistic director of The Living Room Theatre — who went to college with Vanessa Severo, playing the artistic director of a small theater company in Kansas City, whose best friend who he went to college with is an actress with this company. [He's] being artistically directed by an artistic director of a big regional theater called the Rep, being played by one of my colleagues at the University of Missouri-KC, Carla Noack, who's on the faculty.
"So it kind of twists and turns ... it's kind of just like an onion, you just peel back layers and layers."
On blurring the lines between truth and fiction
"I think writers, we start always writing autobiography if we're trying to find something to say. And what I've most been thinking about lately is how autobiography turns into fiction the further away you get from it. The sense of commitment to detail, and specificity of who did what when becomes blurry.
"And then I wrote a play about a guy who can't distinguish between what he's written and who he is, and what he's done and what he hasn't done. And neither can everyone else.
"So in a way my journey as a writer — getting older, getting further away from what I was thinking about when I wrote it, the more objective I feel, and more able to create a world in which the characters, and hopefully, the audience can get lost in the subjectivity of memory in a way that I couldn't when I first wrote it."
On the premiere in the new festival
"I knew I wanted it to have a big start and I thought that these two plays — Fire in Dreamland, which is also people struggling to create something, a work of art in the face of disruption in their lives — and I thought, gosh, these two plays are so close and so far apart in style, but similar in their ambition. And I thought that by putting my own work into it, it kind of signifies ... that I have real skin in this OriginKC idea.
"And this is an exciting, and really frightening, debut."
Kansas City Repertory Theatre's OriginKC New Works Festival presents the world premiere of 'Lot's Wife' by Eric Rosen, and 'Fire in Dreamland' by Rinne Groff, in rotating repertory through May 22, at Copaken Stage. 1 H&R Block Way (13th and Walnut), Kansas City, Missouri. 816-235-2700.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter,@lauraspencer.