Playwright Rajiv Joseph,a Pulitzer finalist in 2010 for Bengal Tiger,has returned to the Alley Theatre and this time he's bringing monsters. The Monster at the Door started out as a more naturalistic play, but in the two-and-a-half years it took him to write it, Joseph told Art Attack, it turned into something much more fantastic. A key character acquires incredible healing powers, but her touch also causes intense harm at the same time. The plot involves transformation and seduction, or the "siren's call" as Joseph puts it.
Now Alley Company Artist Joseph has brought his world premiere of his latest work to Houston as part of the Alley's New Play Initiative. He was last here for the premiere of his play Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Alley.
"Originally it was actually more of a relationship drama. It took 16 left turns along the way. The first title [Medusa Body, still up on the Alley's posters] just became obsolete," Joseph said. "I wouldn't say that my characters took control of this because my characters in the early draft all have been fired. I rehired new characters."
Growing up, Joseph loved Godzilla, Frankenstein and Dracula - Godzilla especially. As he got older he became interested in looking at cultural myths around monsters, the anxiety a society may have that leads to them.
"Why do we have monsters? Why do monsters crop up in almost every mythology around the world?" he said. "Monsters are part of looking at ourselves and our culture. When things happen, when some calamity befalls us that creates a sort of anxiety about the world we live in."
At the same time, Joseph said: "I've always thought monsters were cool. I've always thought this was an interesting thing for me to write about."
He referred to the recent disaster in Japan, saying "what's happening now in Japan is nuclear waste kind of falling into the sea. Everyone is kind of terrified about it and everyone is kind of calmly going about their business because we don't actually know what it means. The myth of Godzilla comes directly from this. The waste that we accumulate as humans can come back to haunt us."
"We have such a tenuous hold on the reality that what we've come to become comfortable with and it can so easily be dashed," he said. "It's the kind of gross malfunction of the natural order that brings monsters."
Despite its fantastic touches, Joseph said he thinks theater audiences - who already come in agreeing to a certain suspension of disbelief - will be able to connect with this play.
"In Bengal Tiger which is in New York [on Broadway starring Robin Williams] right now, the first lines are spoken by a guy in a cage standing on two legs dressed in old tattered pants and we know instantaneously after he has spoken his first line that he is a tiger in a zoo. We never start to doubt that. We accept the truth and we go with that and creates this kind of heightened reality."
And speaking for the future: "I want to write plays that can be their best as plays. And not a play that would be better as a movie."
After his successes, Joseph said there are some things that are easier. "I'm able to make it my career. I can write for a living."
But the actual writing of a play? "It doesn't get any easier especially when you're trying to do new things. I'm trying to challenge myself and write things I haven't written about."
Watch Joseph talk to Mark Bly, Director of New Play Development at the Alley, in our video below.
The Monster at the Door begins previews April 29, 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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