Talking Out Our Differences: Playwright Matt Chait Discusses ‘A Misunderstanding’

Interview by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

January 3, 2019

Upon reading the beginning of the latest edit of A Misunderstanding, writer, and producer Matt Chait’s world premiere (directed by Elina de Santos) opening this month at The Complex Hollywood, I had more than a few questions.

Matt Chait
Photo by Ed Krieger
Matt Chait
Photo by Ed Krieger

The language at first seemed a bit heady.  But as Chait commented during the interview, “It doesn’t play nearly as heady as it reads. In one sense it’s a little like Shakespeare. If you watch and hear actors whose intentions are clear, it becomes clear to you.”  

This new work will be the second of two very similar pieces on the subject of Spirituality versus Evolution (Last year Chait premiered his original work Disinherit The Wind on the same topic). Similar, but very different.  I asked why.  He neatly explained. Here’s what’s eating Matt Chait…

Do you really think it’s possible that we’ll someday come to a collective agreement about Science and Spirituality working hand in hand?

I don’t think we have to necessarily agree. But we do have to discuss what it is we are disagreeing about, rather than segregating into two separate groups. For instance, I am very liberal. At one point I got involved in spirituality. But in my groups, bringing up any idea about spirituality or God seemed to be the dirtiest word. People have different points of view. And there are a lot of serious scientists who believe that the world is not random. But all of that stuff is pushed underground. They are not necessarily creationists. And they are very different than people who just believe in Genesis.

The overall perspective of the play is that a person can be spiritual and knowledgeable and very intelligent. If someone has a spiritual point of view, it is something they should be able to discuss. When the various points of view are not discussed, there is tremendous misunderstanding between the two groups.

In A Misunderstanding, a brilliant PhD student comes to have a spiritual perspective and does research in this area. It becomes a huge passion of his life. But he can’t share that because his girlfriend is a hard-core scientist, whose father is the head professor, and if he goes down that path openly, he won’t get his PhD. He will be expelled from the college.

The play deeper dives into relationships and the very different ways people have of looking at the world.

Now in the world of politics, we talk in terms of the left versus the right. Maybe this world was created randomly by accident, as one group would have it. But maybe this world is intentional and was formed by an intelligence, and there is some kind of guidance and eternal law we should abide by. Maybe we have an inherent purpose. I am trying to inject some understanding of how the other side perceives things. To open a dialog for two groups trying to come up with agreements but have basic differences in worldview. With that, I think there will be a much better chance that they won’t kill each other.

A MISUNDERSTANDING by Matt Chai_show poster

You’ve written so intensely and repeatedly about this subject? What do you want to accomplish?

I want to be understood.

When you go on a solo spiritual journey you are surrounded by same people. Everyone has a mutual understanding. Then you stop and you marry and have children, you gather into new social groups, with various people that you wouldn’t ordinarily hang out with.

It just so happened in my own journey, I met a number of scientists who would say things that I would completely disagree with. I would interject a sentence and they would look at me like I was out of my mind. No response. And I would be ignored like a crazy interruption. I realized that I couldn’t make my point clear in a one-liner, in a conversation.

So, when blogs came out I thought that would be a perfect thing for me to explain myself. And then I thought I could combine science spirituality and theater. My lifelong passion.

It will be gratifying to know that once I’ve gotten the work out…that my ideas, once they’re explained…are not that weird.

I want the audience to feel, in an overwhelming way, the truth, the passion, and the sincerity of the discussion.

How would you say A Misunderstanding differs from Disinherit The Wind?

Disinherit The Wind is a class of ideas and in the play the person with the spiritual ideas was victorious. In A Misunderstanding, the relationships are much more complex. It doesn’t end with a victory, but the beginning of a mutual understanding. It ends with the beginning of a healthy relationship instead of a relationship between misunderstandings and deceit. It’s real communication. It’s all real. It’s highly personal.

Because of these misunderstandings, someone has gotten fired from a lifelong position. Someone has committed suicide, and an engagement has to break up. These misunderstandings have real-life consequences. It’s an issue that is not going to be resolved by avoiding it, but by talking it out.

Photo (above) by Ed Krieger: Bruce Katzman and Amy-Helene Carlson

Copyright © 2019 Tracey Paleo – Gia On The Move

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