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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Apr 23, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 925: Kristine Haruna Lee

Kristine Haruna Lee

Hometown:  Mercer Island, WA. But I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Tokyo till I was 10.

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY.

Q:  Tell me about Suicide Forest.

A:  I was inspired to write Suicide Forest after reading Adrienne Kennedy's play Funnyhouse of a Negro. I was curious if I could also write a play that could journey into deeper, darker territory of racial identity as Kennedy's play does. it's such a mirror play. Circular. It's not afraid to reflect back the ugly truth. So it made sense to me to set my play in Aoikigahara, or Suicide Forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. It's a real forest where folks go to commit suicide. Suicide is historically an honorable way to exit in Japanese culture, or that's my understanding of it. I connect this to the principle of uniformity, and the sacrifice (of your life) being the ultimate gift you can make to your community when you can no longer be the same as everybody else, when you can no longer be homogenous in spirit.

I never fit in as a Japanese person in Japan... so maybe this is me taking space.

Growing up in Tokyo as a kid (and being raised by my Japanese mother), I think so many of my plays are aesthetically influenced by this in the imagery I try to conjure, in it's logic, and yet I've never actually tried to write a play about Japan or being Japanese, I guess because my language skills are so-so and all the other identity-baggage that comes with it. So this was my attempt: the juxtaposition of creating a narrative that is specifically Japanese in all its references and images, and yet written in the english language. Aya Ogawa, who's an amazing director, creator of her own work, and translator of Toshiki Okada's plays, is working with me on this and we'll be sharing a reading at Ars Nova on May 4th at 3pm, with a cast of Japanese/Japanese heritage performers who'll help us excavate this play.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  My theater company harunalee has been in residence at Brooklyn Arts Exchange for the past two years, and we've been developing a new play titled Memory Retrograde. This was a cool project for me because the script developed with the company over the span of two year, which we've never done that before. We are showing all 3 parts of the play April 28+29 8pm at BAX.

A couple​ finds a strange 'remembering' object in the attic, and ponders over the possibility of having lived past lives together. The act of remembering conjures their younger selves, and they all mingle in simultaneity. Their ‘time travels’ take them to their past life in Venice 1515, an Egyptian Burial, the 1970's, Ancient Greece, and a virtual reality forest some time in the far future. As memories epically span generations and landscapes, this couple's recurring trauma is brought to light and replayed over and over again through all these layers of time and space as they figure out how to deal with a single tragedy that haunts their lives.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Less white-led theater institutions.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My theater hero right now is Sibyl Kempson. She possess the ability to create auteur performances/visions, and yet her practice is firmly rooted in playwriting. Her words are her instrument to invent fantastic visuals and I follow in that lineage. Sibyl has an incredible performance series going up at the Whitney called Ten Shouts to the Forgotten Heavens which performs every solstice and equinox till 2018. Every performance is different, a ritual, and a durational hymn or ode to the seasons... She is seriously a badass.

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

A:  Hmm.. I think the biggest advice I needed when I started writing was don't listen to other people- especially the people you're told to look up to or aspire to. Everybody wants to change your play, everybody has something to say. But the play is not a commodity. You are not a commodity. It's living. Invent your own structures. The play is smarter than you, so trust it. Surround yourself in community with folks who understand your work, and can give you feedback that isn't detrimental to the kind of organism the play is, and the kind of ecosystem it needs to thrive in.

Q:  Plugs, please:


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harunalee and bax present

Memory Retrograde

April 28 + 29 @ 8pm
Brooklyn Arts Exchange
421 5th Ave. Studio D

A couple​ finds a strange 'remembering' object in the attic, and ponders over the possibility of having lived past lives together. The act of remembering conjures their younger selves, and they all mingle in simultaneity. Their ‘time travels’ take them to their past life in Venice 1515, an Egyptian Burial, the 1970's, Ancient Greece, and a virtual reality forest some time in the far future. As memories epically span generations and landscapes, this couple's recurring trauma is brought to light and replayed over and over again through all these layers of time and space as they figure out how to deal with a single tragedy that haunts their lives.

written and directed by Kristine Haruna Lee
associate directed by Lauren Swan-Potras 
conceived with Andrew R. Butler
costume design by Karen Boyer
set design by Greg Laffey
sound design by Jen Goma
lighting design by Sarah Lurie
video design by Stivo Arnoczy
production managed by Teri-An Caryl
photos by Sasha Arutyunova

Shiree Adkins
Jess Almasy
Andrew R. Butler
Josh Gelb
Madeline McCray
Keith McDermott
Imran Sheikh


Ars Nova invites you to
a Makers Lab reading of a new play

Suicide Forest

Written by
of 2017 Makers Lab Resident Company

Directed by AYA OGAWA

Thursday, May 4 @ 3PM


A despairing salaryman and a fed-up young school girl both decide to enter Japan's most notorious suicide spot, 'Aokigahara' or Suicide Forest, at the base of the national mountain. A nightmare play examining the sickness of a culturally uniform masculinity and the traditionally heroic performance of suicide.
This event is FREE, but RSVPs are a must!
Click HERE to reserve your tickets!

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