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Interview: Playwright Kate Tarker on Montag, Her "Rebellion Celebration" at Soho Rep

The new play is directed by Dustin Wills and runs through November 13.

Press notes describe Kate Tarker's new play Montag at Soho Rep as a "domestic thriller, a sleep deprivation comedy, and a rebellion celebration under threat of annihilation." The production, directed by Dustin Wills, is certainly that, and a rebellion celebration in more ways than one: it's one of the last shows to be produced under the tenure of current and longtime Soho Rep directors Sarah Benson and Meropi Peponides. Here, Tarker celebrates them and tells us what to expect from this brand new work.

Kate Tarker
(© Tricia Baron)

What was the inspiration for Montag? Can you talk a little bit about the development of the play from when you started until now?
I wanted to write a story about a transformational female friendship, and I wanted to set it in the world I grew up in, sandwiched in between a small German town and a US Military Base community. Identity felt slippery and multiple in that space. Individual friendships sometimes felt like foreign policy.

I'd been circling around this impulse for some time, but receiving a commission from Soho Rep gave me so much more space to examine it, and it let me decide early on who I wanted to make this piece with. My long-term collaborators and close friends, director Dustin Wills and composer Dan Schlosberg, both have backgrounds in opera, and I ended up shaping the play with them in mind.

Press notes describe the piece as a "domestic thriller, a sleep deprivation comedy, and a rebellion celebration." I know what the first and third are, but what is a "sleep deprivation comedy"? (Because as a constantly sleep deprived person, that's what sold me.)
Early on in my process I was thinking a lot about stoner buddy comedies, and the bizarre, elaborate schemes characters often come up with while they're stoned. I ended up losing interest in pot as a plot element for Montag, but I found I could make a lot of the same strangeness come to pass by making my characters very, very tired. When we meet best friends Faith and Novella, they're on day seven of almost no sleep, and we get to see the culmination of oddball decisions they made in the six days leading up to this one. We also get to see them slowly breaking down.

A scene from Kate Tarker's Montag at Soho Rep
(© Julieta Cervantes)

Do you see a thematic line between Thunderbodies and Montag, and if so, can you talk a little bit about it?
Formally speaking, these plays are polar opposites: Thunderbodies was a maximalist explosion, Montag is more like a whispered secret in the dark. But in both plays I'm interested in the catharsis of laughing at what hurts the most, and in fully embracing the freedom, mess, and play of having a body. I'm also exploring some overlapping obsessions in both plays. These include the military and gender, language and power, violence and presence.

This is your latest show at Soho Rep, which recently announced that two of its leaders are stepping down. How has working with them, and the company in general, helped shape your goals for yourself as a dramatist?
It's such an honor to have this play going up during Sarah Benson and Meropi Peponides's final season at Soho Rep. Together with Cynthia Flowers, they've led their theater with an extraordinary commitment towards meeting artists' practical needs and supporting their visions. I mean, really, they commit upfront to producing every play they commission. That's practically unheard of in the American theater. For me, the result was that with Montag, I wrote a more ambitious and ferocious version of my play than I could have done without their support.


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