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Friday, November 12, 2010

Melinda Lopez talks 'Sonia Flew'- its journey, its timeliness, and the new production

Is this the first student production? How did it come to fruition?
There have been several student productions-- one in Miami at the University, another at NYU (perhaps more) -- but this is the first student production I have been able to see. My boss at Wellesley College, the wonderful Nora Hussey, has been wanting to produce the play for a while, but our theatre has been under construction for the past 2 years. This is the first production in the new space-- which is cool because Sonia Flew was also the first production at the Wimberly in 2004 (and also the last production at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, but that's a very different tale of woe).

You've now had the chance to see Sonia Flew in various incarnations. How has the play itself and your relationship with the play changed over the last 6+ years?
I've seen 5 or 6 productions of it, all at large regional theatres, and every one has been special. All had very different challenges. There have probably been 20+ done across the US. A few things I have learned--
  1. Sometimes it's better if the writer is not in the room in early rehearsals, especially if it's not the world premiere. Actors get squirrelly.
  2. No one wants to buy the playwright a drink. The cast makes a family, but it never includes the writer (I'm not being maudlin.) You watch a lot of TV when you are on the road.
  3. The first production makes an indelible mark on you, and in some ways, you never move on. I still see moments from that production every time I see the play. I also learned, that:
  4. Yes, life goes on, and at some point, you don't need to see every production that's out there. You get an e-mail, or you hear from a friend in Ann Arbor that your show is running there, and can you get them tickets? (No, I probably couldn't even get myself tickets.) It's weird, but also wonderful. Like a lover that you had a very intense romance with, and then you went your separate ways-- but you're happy to hear they are doing well.
How has the play changed as the political climate has shifted?
When I started writing the play, in spring 2003, the US had declared 'mission accomplished' in Iraq. The Taliban had been in defeated in Afghanistan. I believed that if the play was ever produced, no one would remember that we had even been at war there. When the play was produced at Steppenwolf, 2007, one reviewer ripped me apart (why are the attacks on writers always so personal?) for putting soldiers onstage in a war when we were still fighting that war. I still don't understand her point-- but it was the last time I saw the play (until Wellesley College) because the review hurt me so deeply. We were also on track for a Broadway production (whatever that means), and after the reviews in Chicago, the producers backed out. Remember, this is a play about Cuba, right? Recently I got an e-mail from the director at San Jose Rep, (2010) who said it is incredibly timely, and still resonating, and his audiences were deeply, deeply moved. The/ 9/11 part still strikes people, but what I hear much more often is the wrenching historical moment of Cuba 1961-- and how the language of the sacrifices that were made for freedom then (for Sonia's family) just rips their hearts out. It's like the current moment is intellectually challenging, but it's the Cuba stuff that people respond to emotionally. I don't know. I can't really figure it out. On the other hand-- one character says, "They're still burning. The Towers. I went, and they're still burning." I feel like those towers will always be burning. It's just seared into me.

Of all the plays you've written, is Sonia Flew your favorite?
I don't know if it's my favorite play. I love my play Gary, like an orphan-red-headed step child-- Gary is the Melinda that nobody knows. Sonia Flew is much more publicly, openly Me. I don't know if it's my best play. I do know that I captured a moment so awful and painful and true and beautiful that I know people are deeply affected by the play. And I am really proud of that.

Final thoughts on the new production:
This production at Wellesley is beautiful. We have some actors who have never been in a play before. I am really proud of that. Some of the students play really tough scenes with guest artists (professional actors) and they go head to head with them and don't back down. I love that-- Tough women. Some of the actors are getting -- for the first time-- a chance to play their own ethnicity on stage. They just ring out. This is a tough, complicated play, and this company is meeting it head on, with enormous passion. I am so excited to see the play again.

Click here for more information on the current production of Sonia Flew.
Wellesley College Theatre Box Office: (781) 283-2000

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