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JV: The premise of The Company We Keep is simple: upon moving to the same city, four longtime friends reunite for lunch. Of course, nothing stays simple or goes as planned. Everyone is guarding secrets, and before the main course is served, the group is rocked by betrayal and transgressions. The friendly lunch devolves into a ruthless, high-stakes struggle for power among the four friends. Things get ugly. Really ugly. I’m considering the tagline: This is not your mother’s luncheon.
KAM: What makes you passionate about this idea?
JV: I wanted to look at what happens when moral codes collide, particularly among spouses and friends. Everyone in this play has his or her own sense of right and wrong, and the boundaries are not the same. I’m passionate about this idea because I think it goes to the heart of what defines us: our beliefs, our values, our relationships. What is right? What is wrong? What are the absolutes in this world, and what happens when they are tested? What would make one betray that which he or she holds most dear? You know – light, easy stuff.
KAM: Does The Company We Keep align with your original vision for the work, or did it take shape as you went along?
JV: In truth, I had no original vision for this work. Writing The Company We Keep was a unique experience for me because the play seemed to spring forth from nowhere, with a great sense of urgency – “I have to get this on paper now!” It did not align with my typical writing process. I had this idea for four very distinct characters with competing wants and needs, and I just let them have at it. At first, it was terrifying to write with no clear roadmap while these four characters duked out a battle royal in my head. But then, the characters took over and the story just seemed to reveal itself. As MFA playwrights, we are fortunate to work with phenomenal actors each week; at the start of this play, all I knew was that I wanted to come to workshop with juicy roles for them to play. (So, thank you, actors, for the inspiration!) The rest took shape as I wrote.
KAM: How would you describe your writing to people who are unfamiliar with your work?
JV: I tend to write character-driven stories about love, loss and triumph, specifically within the family unit. I like strong, meaty characters who would fight to the death to get what they want. Many of my plays are nonlinear. I like to play with time and space, and I love heightened theatricality – anything that brings a play to life in a way that celebrates the unique advantages of working in this particular medium.
KAM: What is the least likely thing you've gained inspiration from?
JV: Many, many odd things have inspired my plays. The least likely would have to be a teddy bear. Here’s the story: My favorite childhood toy was a puppet theater. I spent years playing with it, creating stories and voices for everything from socks to stuffed animals. Upon moving to Boston, I found an old stuffed bear that wears a Boston Red Sox T-shirt and a Yankees hat. (I think of it as a metaphor for world peace.) I found myself imagining the bear’s voice, his personality – and BAM! Inspiration for my full-length play, Shoe Baby, in which a woman, distraught over fertility struggles, wills into life a stuffed bear who becomes her child.
KAM: What’s next for you?
JV: Immediately following the Ground Floor Reading Series, I’m on my way to the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York to see a reading of Fire Dance, a fabulous new play written by my fiancé (and fellow MFA playwright) Michael Parsons. Then, in June, we join our classmates, Rick Park and MJ Halberstadt, to produce a festival of our other new plays, in conjunction with CFA directors and actors. Then – writing, writing, and rewriting. Later this year, my play Unanswered, We Ride will receive a staged reading at Seattle Rep by Northwest Playwrights Alliance, which is very exciting. And finally, this fall, I am getting married – the ultimate collaboration!