From Roommates to Collaborators on Dido of Idaho
Playwright Abby Rosebrock and actor Layla Khosh share their versions of how each inspired the other (along with some fateful avocado toast).
It started in Soho
Layla: We happened to be at some delightfully quaint restaurant in Soho, eating, I sh*t you not, avocado toast, and Abby casually asked me what kinda role I was most interested in playing. And I said, "A drunk!"
Abby: Layla said she was interested in exploring alcoholism in her work around the same time I was starting to think about more global, collective or political manifestations of addiction and behavioral dysfunction. The relationship between addressing personal pain and addressing pain and brokenness in the world at large. So Layla's prompt to write about a character struggling with self-destructive patterns gave me a way in to exploring all that. I am interested in stories that help us love and understand ourselves when we're at our absolute worst, so that we can grow and do better. I knew that in Layla's unique hands, a character at her rock bottom, wallowing in a moment where she's betraying herself and others and all her values, could also be endearing and genuinely hilarious and the makings of a hero. She understands rhythm and language so intuitively and her comedy is deep. The blessing of getting to write for her is overwhelming to think about.
One year later…
Layla: This play turns up in my hands and it's got this woman named Nora who's a mess with a major alcohol dependency. Nora is so much more than that, but wow. Can you imagine a greater gift? Abby's writing is a true pleasure to perform; she's got a literary mind like no other and she's a hell of a joke writer. Our rhythms seem to fit together well. Though Abby's writing sounds brilliant and hilarious from many mouths. It's the real deal.
On their collaboration process
Layla: Our roles as actor and writer are not strongly defined, though Abby is more often the one to put the pen to paper.
Abby: We both act and write a lot in our careers. Layla's writing is often more surreal than mine, with this wonderfully opaque but hilarious and truthful poetic language. It's the only self-consciously surreal writing that cracks me up and moves me as immediately as more accessible kinds of writing do. Nora, Layla's character in Dido of Idaho, is inebriated for more than half the play and is also this ingenious thinker. So even though the play is written in a naturalistic vein (insofar as the storytelling and dialogue are linear), in writing Nora at her wildest moments, I found my mind tipping into Layla's poetic register.
Layla: One of the reasons Abby is my best friend is because she's always searching for meaning, and born to entertain. I'm the same way. She's fascinating to work with because when you get down to it, our natures are very different. Her mind is mysterious, yet there's this intense overlap in our senses of humor and the fact that we want to say what we care about whatever the risk. Abby has the PhD though. She makes things happen with her brain, I'm more like the fun aunt that shows up and makes a mess.
Abby: It's funny to hear Layla call herself the "fun aunt," because she is definitely the sage in this relationship. My mind spins its wheels a lot, but Layla's leaps. She teaches me a million things about the writing itself and about bigger creative questions every time she takes a pass at the material. And she shares a vision of comedy as healing, as a mirror reflecting the scariest parts of the soul that we as artists and humans most need to confront. Scary-obscene and scary-transcendent. You have to be so fearless to channel those emotional experiences, and she tends to be more fearless than I am. That makes me more fearless.