Monday, July 15, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 596: Lisa Milinazzo

Lisa Milinazzo

Hometown: Waltham Massachussettes

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about Slain In The Spirit.

A:  Inspired by the Andrea Yates* story, “Slain In the Spirit” is an expressionistic play, with dark comedic overtones. Set in the Bible belt, it tells the story of Molly, a devout young Christian who, with the birth of each child spirals into post partum psychosis. Told in reverse order, the play begins with the catastrophic drowning of her children (who are played symbolically with sacks and the voices of adult actors), traces her life back to its earliest days of childhood, courtship with her husband, Danny, births of 4 children; and reconnecting to the day of the drownings. Her psychotic inner world is portrayed by a group of actors who also double in various other colorful characters in Molly’s life. The same group is also known as the 'angel & demon chorus'; who represent Molly’s spiritual battle. The play examines the deadly combination of religious fundamentalism and psychosis.

*In the Spring of 2001, Andrea Yates, a young mother of 5 and a fundamentalist Christian woman from Texas, drowned each of her children in the bathtub of their home. A loving mother, she home schooled all of her children, but suffered repeated bouts of post-partum psychosis. She was found guilty and was currently serving several life sentences until 2005 the case was reopened and she was retried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was finally put in a mental institution for the criminally insane. I was drawn to the story for many reasons, some clear and some subterranean. I myself worked for 7 years as a therapist in a psychiatric hospital. I had also spent several years worshipping in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church and being a member of that community. I am sure that my own set of complex feelings about these tumultuous things in my own history pulled me toward the story.

The piece is not a biography. It is a contemplation of psychosis and of our very personal and very real yearning for God connection and the deadly effects of fundamentalism and narrow mindedness on human lives. I want to reveal the slow and methodical stealing of a woman’s spirit life, through fear-based, harsh, masochistic religious teachings, culminating in the destruction of my main character Molly and her kids. I wanted to bring to light the multitude of conflicting religious and societal signals which were operating on this character and the conflicting impulses that could drive a woman in this most extreme case to kill her own children. I also want to reveal that so many of these acts of violence against children in particular, is preventable; for example, some of the latest tabloid tragedies like Sandyhook, Connecticut.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a couple of upcoming film projects I’m focusing on. One is a film version of the short play “Motel Story” by Alexandra Gersten-Vasillaros with Director of Photography, Walter McGrady. And, I’ve been collaborating with playwright C.S. Hanson on one of her new plays.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I am Sicilian and grew up with a blue collar background. My dad had a huge influence over my road to being a director and writer as well as my work ethic. He was a cop and a mechanic, but was also a sort of passionate, articulate, elegant man who loved other cultures and ethnicities. He had a mythic sense of right and wrong, and both my folks had enormous heart for the underdog, the disenfranchised. We had colorful characters parading in and out of our lower middle class home growing up---people from both sides of the tracks. My mom’s best friend from across the street came over every morning at 7am, in her bathrobe and slippers and started brewing the coffee that she and my mom would drink!! It was so lively and good fodder for the embryonic writer/director that was secretly growing inside me.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Joan Littlewood; Stanislavski; Phil Hoffman.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I loved BLACKWATCH—it seemed to reinvent the medium. I am excited by material which teeters on the edge of comedy and tragedy. I like depicting extreme worlds. My vision is to create a cauldron of peculiar, lively and desperate personalities and circumstances that I want to bring to vibrant life. I often like characters that are dark and able to set in motion horrific consequences, but who also possess theatrical and comedic elements. People who are larger than life. Writers like Tracy Letts, Rebecca Lenkowitz, Alexandra Gersten, Lucy Gough, Eve Ensler seem to embody the nature and landscape that I love to work within. I want to create theater which blends penetrating, truthful moments with gorgeous lyrical theatricality.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Pay attention to all the inner proddings of story or event that break your heart, excite and inspire. No idea is too little--- they are all little seedlings.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Slain in the Spirit is playing at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, July 16th – August 3rd.

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