October 15, 2018

‘The Interview’ explores dystopian world of parenting

Imagine a world in which having a child is more difficult than getting into Harvard, a world in which government bureaucrats decide who is fit to be a parent. That’s the idea behind Susan Josephs’ new play, “The Interview.”

On a recent afternoon at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Josephs and the play’s director, Diana Wyenn, sat down for an interview about “The Interview,” which will be performed Oct. 4-27 at the Studio/Stage in Los Angeles.

According to Josephs, the idea for the play was born more out of academic frustration than parenting. “In 2010, I was applying to graduate school,” she said. “I hadn’t been subjected to an academic application process in quite some time. Going through that process of applying to school started getting me thinking about how everything in our society … often feels like you’re getting interviewed, or there’s a competition involved.”

Josephs had also recently married, and she’d begun receiving the inevitable question from friends and family: When are you going to have kids? “It seemed to me that biologically being able to bear children seemed like the last thing in our society that people could just do without having to compete or apply for,” Josephs said.

But it was an exclamation overheard at a dinner party that really spurred her to write. The guests had been discussing an article about child abuse, when one exasperated woman yelled, “Oh my God, there really needs to be a license for parenting.” 

Josephs, whose previous works “The Manhattan Bible” (2002) and “Un-Lonely Planet” (2004) were produced at the 92nd Street Y and The Theater for the New City, respectively, decided to write about a world in which having a child required an exclusive license. Her first draft was, by her own admission, “pretty terrible” and far too steeped in science fiction, with robots, strange technology and futuristic lingo that distracted from her central premise. But she rewrote and revised, and soon she had a working draft.

Josephs approached Wyenn in 2012, after a dance performance at REDCAT, where Wyenn worked in the PR department. The two had known each other for a while, because Josephs was a frequent freelance dance writer for the Los Angeles Times. Josephs asked Wyenn if she knew any directors who might be interested in helming “The Interview.”

“As soon as I heard it, I said, ‘We as a society need to be talking about this,’ ” said Wyenn, who boldly suggested herself for the gig. Besides doing marketing and PR at both REDCAT and LACMA, Wyenn has also worked as an actor and director since graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2004.

The play is set largely in one room, a government office, in which a couple, Jenna (Jacqueline King) and Steven (Marshall McCabe), meet with government interviewer Veronica (Melissa Sullivan), who is to decide whether they should be granted the right to bear a child.

“The most universal stories are always the most personal, and Susan has created this three-character drama set in a larger world,” Wyenn said. “In this world, the government mandates how you have to parent.”

Neither Wyenn nor Josephs has children, though Wyenn said she “would like to have kids,” when the time is right, but both acknowledge how passionate people can get about child rearing. In Wyenn’s eyes, that passion can sometimes be troubling. She related a story one of the actors had told about friends who recently had a child after several failed attempts. “Their happiness rests on this child,” Wyenn said, adding, “and it’s dangerous.”

For Josephs, the play boils down to a meditation on free will and choice. “What happens when one set of rules or recommendations is imposed on an entire society?” she asked. In her fictional world, the government began with good intentions, hoping to eliminate child abuse, but ended up paving the road to a living hell. “How can these good intentions spiral into oppressive outcomes?” That’s what Josephs hopes the audience grapples with.

For her part, Wyenn said she has “loved” the process of putting the play together. “Last night was really surprising to me,” Wyenn said, “because for the first time I heard a line and I thought about my love life.”

And though the struggles of Steven and Jenna are fictional, both Wyenn and Josephs see echoes of their story in the world we live in today. Wyenn was careful to not make the staging too futuristic because she wanted people to see our own world in the alternate reality of “The Interview.”  

“We’ve left enough room for the audience to see themselves and imagine what the rest of the world might be like,” Wyenn said.

Josephs believes Steven and Jenna’s fight to have a child will resonate with audiences. “If you get to this interview in this world … you’re almost at the finish line,” Josephs said. But, as in our own increasingly competitive society, “Nothing is just going to get handed to you; everything must be fought for in some way.”

“The Interview” premieres Oct. 4 at  Studio/ Stage in Los Angeles and runs through Oct. 27. Studio/Stage is located at 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles.  For more information, visit www.theinterviewplay.com.