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All Over the Map

How His Bride Came to Abraham in Kansas City, Stage Directions in Los Angeles, and Southern Gothic Novel in Atlanta. logo
Michael Stock and Alyssa Cartwright
in How His Bride Came to Abraham
(Photo © Cynthia Levin)
A wounded Israeli soldier encounters a young Palestinian woman in an Israeli security zone near the Lebanese border and the two supposed enemies are forced to spend the night together in an underground shelter. Karen Sunde's play How His Bride Came to Abraham, now receiving its professional world premiere at Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre, is extremely timely -- and yet, Sunde first began writing it back in 1991.

"I thought it was a period play," says Sunde. "I was in the Middle East under U.N. auspices because I was interested in writing about peacekeeping. When I began writing, things were going pretty well and I thought they were going to have a better situation than the specifics of when I set my play. But here we are, 10 or so years later. It is just so heavy to have this go on day after day after day with both sides committing atrocities, when you hope so many times that it would have gotten settled by now."

Sunde views her play as "almost like a fairy tale." It does not take sides in the ongoing political conflict; instead, it tries to imagine a resolution for these two troubled characters, at least. According to Sunde, "It puts you into the souls of a very young, very innocent soldier and girl who don't fully understand their circumstances. They are steeped in what they've grown up with. They have their desires, which may be just to get by in peace and make things better in the world, but the situation they live in is going to grip them and determine what they're able to do. It was compelling for me to try to imagine how you could get two people -- one from each side, both deeply involved in their country and their people's problems with the other -- to come to a resolution.

"For some reason, I've always gone for cross-cultural stories," Sunde remarks. "This one represents more than just that. It's about all people dealing with their 'other' -- the one they feel they can't deal with, their enemy."


L. Trey Wilson and Marc Ewing in Stage Directions
(Photo © Joe Foster)
"I do not consider myself a political playwright," says L. Trey Wilson. "I consider myself a questioning playwright." Wilson's latest work, Stage Directions, is currently being presented by the Ensemble Studio Theatre-The L.A. Project. It deals with the tension and drama that results when two male African American actors rehearsing a play are supposed to kiss but one of them refuses.

"A few years back, I was asked to perform in a play where there was a same-sex kiss involved," says the actor-playwright. "I was unable to perform in the show due to a prior commitment but went to see it when it was produced. Having read the play, I knew what to expect; but, to my surprise the two actors did not actually kiss. Afterwards, I spoke to the playwright and was told that one of the actors had refused to do the kiss. I know how challenging some rehearsal processes can be due to the collaboration of artistic people, and the thought of how personal politics might complicate that intrigued me."

Not only did Wilson write a play inspired by this incident, he's also appearing in its world premiere production. "It's been a valuable lesson to learn about the play from within it as opposed to being an outside observer," says Wilson. "Sometimes, writers can know logically what needs to happen for the play and not understand why the actors aren't making the connection. From inside the play, you can see for yourself where possible bridges and support need to be added in order to serve your intentions.

"I think what makes this play unique is that the conversation of heterosexism and homophobia is rarely explored within an African-American situation," continues Wilson. "The play deals with homosexuality and, in particular, men on the DL (down low), which is one form of expressing one's sexuality utilized by some men of color. It's style and behavior has a very masculine aura attached to it that challenges the perception of how gay and straight behavior is identified."


Frank Blocker in
Southern Gothic Novel
"I quit being nervous about going onstage when I was in high school," says Frank Blocker. "But if I'm performing my own work and it's opening night, you do not want to be around me. I'm a wreck!" After a successful run at the New York International Fringe Festival this past August, Blocker is now set to perform his one-man show Southern Gothic Novel in Atlanta.

Having lived and worked in Atlanta for a number of years, Blocker is best known to local audiences for Eula Mae's Beauty, Bait & Tackle, which he co-wrote and performed with collaborator Chuck Richards. "It just took off," says Blocker of that show. "We had this cult following." His new piece should appeal to Eula Mae fans: Southern Gothic Novel is set in the tiny town of Aberdeen, Mississippi, where young girls have been disappearing. When the hopelessly romantic Viola Haygood is kidnapped, it seems that everyone in town is a suspect. As he did in Eula Mae, Blocker plays a range of quirky characters -- both humans and animals. "I even become parts of the set sometimes," he notes.

"I love to sucker people in with stereotypes, because we're comfortable with them," Blocker says. "We love them despite the fact that we might stand up and scream that stereotyping is wrong, wrong, bad, bad, bad! Once I've got audiences suckered in, I try to give them the sucker punch of showing that a character is not who or what they thought."

Blocker is particularly interested in offering a different take on Southerners. "People hear a Southern accent and immediately think the character's stupid," he remarks; then he goes on to describe how he once met with a potential director and producer for a New York production of Eula Mae and soon realized that the director intended to dumb-down the show. "I said, 'I will not sit in a room with people who think that all Southerners are idiots.' There's nothing more narrow-minded in this world than somebody who judges someone by his voice. Southern people may sound funny, but they've got some smarts!"

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