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Mark Bly on a Healing Monster With a Grotesque Killer Arm

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Sight unseen and before his play Bengal Tiger hit the West Coast and got really big and long before it was a Pulitzer finalist or snagged Robin Williams to play the lead role on Broadway, Alley Theatre dramaturg Mark Bly and Artistic Director Gregory Boyd approached playwright Rajiv Joseph saying they wanted to sign on for his next work.

This was while they were still in the midst of putting on his Gruesome Playground Injuries in 2009."It was just so clear that this was an extraordinary writer," Bly says.

What Joseph delivered, after many changes, was The Monster at the Door, now premiering at the Alley.

"Irony upon irony upon irony," is how Bly described it at one point in a talk with Art Attack. "We all have kinds of monsters within us. The idea of the monster is not necessarily only bad. There's something gorgeous about the monster as well."

As Bly tells it: "The central character is an artist who's commissioned by a global securities firm to create this mural. She's commissioned by this young woman who is hit by a meterorite and as a result of being hit by a meterorit s transformed into this healing machine a healing monster. She sees herself as saint. She wanders the world healing people. But in healing people with this arm of hers she draws their pain out of them. She draws their disease out of them. And her arm becomes a grotesque like thing. At the same time she cures them of one disease, she blinds them, she kills them. she becomes this plaguelike thing, this apocalytic thing. So there's this double-edged thing that goes on."

But as dire as this sounds, Bly calls this "a very rich play filled with humor."

In one scene, a character goes too far out while scuba diving and gets a case of the bends. During the ensuing hallucination, he imagines he encounters this Siren and goes dancing with her. And Rjiv has him suspended over the stage, Bly says.

Bly's role through the rehearsal process has been to help the author and director fine tune the work by making suggestions and asking questions. "It is about structure...it's also about amplifying." When it became more and more about the monster about the grotesque. I started sending him books of art. I started sending him Max Ernst http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Ernst

books, surreal books.

Bly, who ran the playwriting program at Yale for 12 years, says a lot of his work then and now involves "planting seeds in the mind of a playwright."

"I sit in rehearsals and ask questions. 'Where does this come from? Why is this character doing this? Why does this character believe in demons? Why does this character see this?' This is constantly helping the playwright understand what the trigger is for understanding this moment. I'm always saying 'So what's the trigger for this?' You'll see something on the stage. I just don't know how it got there. "

In putting this play together, it's very obvious that Joseph is "very interested in this notion of the myth," Bly says, "He's creating a series of myths that are modern day myths if you will about our culture, about artists. There's no question about that. What happens when an artist creates a work of art and sets it loose in a society?"

The Monster at the Door opens Wednesday May 4 and runs through May 29 on the Neuhaus Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. Tickets are available at www.alleytheatre.org or by calling 713-220-5700.

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