With the new Season about to start rehearsals, and The Ismene Project on the horizon, I sat down with the Ismene script and reread the forward that I wrote so many years ago.
Ismene was a very special play for me to write. It was the very first show that I had ever written where everything just felt right. I would wake up at 5am just to get to a computer and keep writing. The Dream Theatre style suddenly became so clear to me that I began creating the exercises and rehearsal process that we still use to this day. Everything just lined up... It was also the first of my Greek plays. And to tell you the truth- I only wrote it as a Greek play because I thought it was funny... I hated Greek theatre! Oh my God did I hate it. the teachers that had introduced it to me made me believe that it was the driest, most awful thing imaginable. All I even remembered about what I had learned were the weird rules of Greek theatre. Messengers always show up late, violence happens off stage, blah blah blah. I thought it would be funny if the rules of Greek Theatre were also the rules of life. That a Chorus would not be another character, but almost a disease that took control of people's minds. It was all so odd and funny to me. I also felt that my play SISTER 121, which I thought would be the greatest play I would ever write, had failed me so much because I hadn't made the villain something that the Audience could get behind. The villain in that piece was socialism. I had just returned from Russia and had learned so much about the socialist effect on the arts and the people, plus I had studied the effects of Mao's cultural revolution, that I was drawn to write about it. I was twenty five... I failed... But with Ismene, I would learn from my mistakes. I won't go into the villain in Ismene because it would be wrong of me to do so. So many people have found their own villain in the piece that I don't ever want to replace their villain with mine. For Ismene conquers all villains. She overcomes whatever it is that you need for her to. She was my perfect heroine and savior from one of my greatest failures. (I'd have a much worse failure a year later, but I'm not ready to talk about that yet. Maybe in another 9 years.)
Now I am 36. I'll be 37 when Ismene simultaneously opens in so many different cities and countries. It is part of The Ismene Project. A project that is so close to the hearts of the wonderful directors, producers and actors that I am humbled by the magnitude of it. I even had a conversation with one of the directors where she said that I most likely don't even understand just what that show does for women. I didn't know what to say. My first thought was, how in the Hell can you say that? Of course I know what that show does to people, I wrote it! But that was just stupid... I have a new answer now. You're absolutely right. I don't know what Ismene does for you. But I do know what she did for me. And I do know that all villains, who or whatever they are, must be destroyed.
Ismene Forward September 2003:
Originally this play was to be a retelling of Antigone. I had high hopes of transforming the classic myth into a new story. In this version, Antigone triumphs over Creon’s decree, not by disobeying it or through self-sacrifice, but by following it to the letter. By not only letting Polynices rot outside the gates of Thebes, but by bringing all to see his corpse and tell them his story. By doing this, the people of Thebes would, almost unconsciously, transform the land around his body into a great shrine, far greater than any state burial could provide. I had thoughts of the roses that are left each morning at the door of a murdered director’s Apartment in Moscow. The Teddy Bears and candles alongside the highway. All the places where we come to mourn, hold vigils, and how often they never take place in the cemetery. But, as always happens with any idea that you fall in love with, things got weird. First of all, Antigone was not the heroine for that kind of story. Anouilh describes her in his play as a girl who does not think, only feels. Does not reason, but acts. This girl had no place in my play. Since Sophocles wrote her tragedy 2,500 years ago, Antigone has always been treated as a symbolic champion for The Laws of God over the Laws of the State. It is a story about morals that cannot be questioned. Arguments that cannot be won. Reason that relies on mystical beliefs whether you speak of the will of the gods or the will of the state. They are the same thing. They both rely on human sacrifice whether for good of god or the good of the people. Sacrifice, death, and tragedy, for a god who claims to need blood in order to grow and the life of its children in order to exist? No, Antigone was not the right heroine. But who in the story spoke of reason? Who in the story spoke of life? Who in the story spoke of love and joy? Who spoke of the past as a tragedy and the future as a place of hope? Ismene. So when Antigone dies, HaemonIsmene was written. It is a story of a young girl who has seen too much death and has been forced to take part in a world of misery for far too long. It is a story that deals with the good of man above everything else. A story where we fight for our right to live out our own lives as we choose and not as a plaything of mysticism and prophecy.