Interview: How a Trip to Iceland Inspired Steve Yockey's New Play, Reykjavík
The streaming dark comedy, from the executive producer of The Flight Attendant, is available now.
You don't see many American plays set in Iceland, so Reykjavík by Steve Yockey is one of a kind. Presented by the North Hollywood-based Road Theatre Company, this new whimsical dark comedy about seeking connection in a transitional space was recently filmed live onstage and streams through May 30. Here, Golden Globe nominee Yockey — the executive producer of HBO Max's massively successful series The Flight Attendant — tells us what to expect.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Beyond the beautiful city in Iceland, what is Reykjavík?
Every once in a while, I just want to write a play that deals with the lives of gay characters, and I got the itch again. I didn't quite know how to approach it, and then I visited Reykjavík. While I was there, I had this idea, what about writing a play that involves all of these characters kind of pin-balling into each other in these transitional spaces like hotel rooms and restaurants, because everyone there is a tourist. So I ended up with this very darkly comedic, kind of painfully human play about people missing connections in their lives.
What was it about Iceland itself that inspired you?
I travel quite a bit and I wouldn't say that I'm usually comfortable in different places. Like, there's just something about me that — I have this kind of Southern thing mixed with a neurotic gay man's tendency to be like "I don't belong here." I didn't feel that way there. It's a gorgeous city. It was a weird combination of, the weather was gray and rainy the entire time we were there, so there was mist coming off the water, and their opera house is so beautiful sitting right there on the water, and then, like, 100 yards from that is the world's most famous hot dog stand, and there are all these teeny tiny birds that have eaten so many hot dog bun crumbs that they can't fly anymore. And we were there around Christmastime so they had giant projections of all the Christmas trolls on all the buildings in the city. It just felt removed from my everyday life.
Then I sort of realized the number of Icelandic people I met was very few, and the number of people I met that were also visiting Reykjavík from other places was very high. I kept meeting people that didn't actually come from Reykjavík. It was that sense of "I could be anybody." These people could be anyone and I won't know their whole stories. That fueled what ultimately ended up being the structure of the play, which is, essentially, eight short plays that tell one complete story.
How did this production come about?
The Road Theatre Company reached out to include the play in a reading series that they did during the shutdown, and I guess they had a really good response. I thought they did a great job. When they said they wanted to give it a shot, I was like, "How is that going to work?" And they told me to let them worry about it. Under very, very challenging circumstances, they mounted a production and filmed it, with multiple cameras running multiple takes of the entire play. It was different than anything I've experienced in theater because they weren't trying to make a movie; they were trying to make a film of a play. I went and saw some runs and gave some notes, but they were generally like, "I love what you're doing, because you're doing it during a pandemic." It's like, technical stuff doesn't matter because I'm watching a play get made and filmed in the middle of a pandemic. But the technical stuff that they're achieving in this play...I'm not bashful about asking for spectacle, and they're achieving that very well.
What is it like for you to watch this play get filmed, compared with shooting a TV show like The Flight Attendant? Is that even a fair question?
They are so different, and I think the differences really make you appreciate both things more, if that makes sense. Television is designed so there are three versions: there's what you write, there's what you film, and there's what comes out of post, so they can be three wildly different things. In theater, it's what you write, and then a group of people comes together collaboratively to build the house from your blueprint. It's always great to see plays of mine done in different ways, and this felt as if someone was just doing a production that happened to involve cameras.
I do want to also talk about the response to The Flight Attendant, which we watched all in one day over Christmas. Was the great response to the show anywhere near what your team was expecting, or did it come out of the blue?
I won't speak for anybody else, but I was consistently amazed throughout the process that the studio and network were letting us get away with what they were letting us get away with. The show is very much a genre blend and there's all kinds of weird stuff in there. We felt confident about what we were doing, and I think you can see that on the screen, but the fact that they were so supportive of, like...this is the episode with the giant rabbit blocking the hallway? They went on the ride with us.
I was so excited that everybody was so supportive, and then I started to have that imposter syndrome feeling, so by the time it got to air, I was sort of like, "Oh, I hope we just get like a niche audience that thinks it's really fun." Because we were all in lockdown when it came out, it took a while before I realized exactly how large the reaction to the show was. It felt surreal.