Have you read your Chekhov lately?
New Times caught up with co-artistic director and actor Dito van Reigersberg to get the inside scoop about the play.
New Times: So, we've read amazing things about you! Your work is genre-breaking and innovative. But h ow did it get to this point? How did you get started?
Dito van Reigersberg: Yeah, we're not your everyday theater company. We're a group of about seven Swarthmore students that wanted to make original work together. We founded the company just out of college in 1995. Coincidentally, the first Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe started the year Pig Iron started. We helped inaugurate that festival and now it's 15 years old. Philadelphia in the middle of a big cultural renaissance. It's a really nice environment where people are taking risks and doing new things.
Would you describe yourself as experimental?
Every piece we've made -- 25 so far -- is a little bit different. Our actors are actors-creators. They are involved in helping to write the show. The actors, playwrights, and directors make group decisions that carry the play forward. We start with a question or the germ of an idea or style or some subject matter, and we all do the research together by responding to assignments, improvisations, and eventually the kernel of the idea snowballs into something that becomes a play.
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What is the question or germ of the idea that started this idea?
The director and I were reading Animals in Translation written by Temple Grandin. She is a high functioning autistic person who writes about brain science and the way autistic brains differ from normal brain -- for instance, in a heightened ability to connect to animals. Meanwhile, we were also interested in Chekhov. We did a reading of his play The Three Sisters and saw a connection between her way of looking at human nature and Chekhov's way of looking at human nature. Grandin described how she doesn't know how to feel two emotions at the same time or be ambivalent. Meanwhile Chekhov's characters are always ambivalent and have complicated emotions. It was very interesting to see the contrast.
Why do you think people should come see this play?
It's surprisingly funny. The center of the play is a mildly autistic character. It's a Chekhov kind of story. He wants to find a home. He's a lonely guy because of his autism, trying to connect in some way with other people, but his autism makes it difficult. All of us know what it is to feel an awkwardness in social interaction. What is unexpected and really lovely about this play is that we can all laugh at the awkwardness and sympathize with him. And when the show becomes dramatic, it gets really universal, too.
Chekhov Lizardbrain at Colony Theater. March 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $30 for the general public, $20 for non-MDC students and seniors, $10 for MDC students, faculty, and staff. Tickets via mdc.edu.