An interview with playwright Bob DeRosa and director Rebecca Larson
By Matt Ritchey
Every weekend, it seems, a new superhero movie opens at the box office; stories of humans with special gifts that, in the best stories, cause them as many problems as they solve. Bob DeRosa’s new play Gifted, playing at Sacred Fools, is a superhero story for people who like three-dimensional, realistic characters who are burdened with more down-to-Earth powers.
Ash’s (Kacie Rogers) power is instantly knowing about someone’s romantic life – mostly how it will end. Most people are, of course, very excited to hear a psychic tell them about their love life, but no matter how much they say they just want the truth, they don’t, they want to have good news. It’s a brilliant piece of writing that asks great metaphysical questions and answers just enough to keep you thinking after the show is over.
Gifted is a powerful, heartening play and production, which reminds us all that even if we think our gifts are inconsequential, we matter.
Bob, you give an account of how you came up with this story in the program but was there something that finally made you say, “Okay, I need to tell this story now”?
BOB: I wrote this originally as a screenplay 20 years ago and it almost got made a couple of times. It started my career and led to work, but people kept asking me about it and whenever I would tell people what it was about, this thing would happen their eyes and they’d say, “Oh, I’ve always had the gift of …X.” so there was this feeling that this story was still important and still needed to be told in some way. I was a member of Sacred Fools and one of the perks is that I could submit a script through the New Works Development Program. Rebecca was one of the curators at the time, and last year, they set a deadline for proposals. I said, “Y’know what? I have a few weeks off, this is my moment.” I wrote it feverishly, sent it to Rebecca and she said “Yeah.” Because of our conversations and how deeply she understood the story and was connected to the story, I couldn’t imagine anyone else directing it.
There’s one aspect of the show that was gorgeous and I’m wondering whether it started out in the script: the dance sections. They were beautiful and evoked feelings of what can’t be expressed in words. Was that in the script or brought in during the workshop?
REBECCA: It was me! You know, in filmmaking, you have the benefit of the POV shot. In theater, you don’t have that, so How am I going to look through Ash’s eyes? I can play with Time, Sound, and Light. What does True Love Sound like? Is it an orchestra? Is it heartbeats in sync? How do people move? Is it a guitar and bass but they’re not tuned together? We threw all of that away eventually because we didn’t have a composer, but what we could do was hire a choreographer. Because you can tell how people feel about one another if you look closely enough. Are their feet pointed at each other? When they laugh, who do they look at? So we just took that to the next level.
BOB: In the script, it was very simple place-holder stuff like “Something happens here” and then Rebecca chose to work with Tavi Stutz whose worked for Cirque du Soliel, he’s Russian ballet trained, and bringing him on as part of the team blows my mind because I never thought it could be that. I always thought it would be something sweet but (Rebecca) figured out a way to make it really emotional.
I loved the minimalism, specifically excising many props and using light and sound. Did that come out of workshopping or it was planned ahead of time?
REBECCA: I think Bob and I were on the same page a lot of the time: We just don’t want this to be a play about cups. I said, “We’re not doing any scene changes, people know what a wine glass looks like, people know what it looks like when you flip a coin” and Jamie Robledo said, “Oh, I’ll just put a sound on it” and it was brilliant. And then our scenic designer Madeleine said “What if we put the set in the sky?” and she and our light designer (Matt Richter) got together to hang all these practicals. Bob and I agreed early on: “The simpler the better. The audience will get it.” If the story is good, you can get away with murder.
BOB: I don’t have a traditional theater background, I learned about theater doing the Orlando Fringe Festival and the best shows I’d seen in those days, were two actors with a couple of boxes and a hat. I expressed that and Rebecca embraced it to the “n’th” degree.
REBECCA: I love that the script is a love letter to portal relationships. Portal relationships are relationships that are not forever, but the one when you get to meet yourself in a new way. And they’re important. I went through one of those two-year relationships where I fell in love and it changed who I was on, like, a molecular level – who I am and what I want. But I’m not with that guy. On the one hand, I thank God that I met him and on the other, I thank God that we broke up. And I could not have done this life without that portal relationship. It’s a doorway you have to go through. And I love that this relationship changes Ash and makes her a little more willing. I just wish there was a little more love for those relationships that aren’t “The Big One.” Because they’re just as important. They’re pivotal and beautiful.
Was there something that surprised both of you in this process – either about yourself or the material?
BOB: Being a screenwriter can sometimes make you feel like you’re not a very deep writer because you’re serving so many masters and just trying to work your way through the forest. And every writer has those moments of self-doubt but I’m sitting there in rehearsals watching Rebecca work with these incredible actors and there are some deep scenes where they’re into the work and I’m watching this going, “Oh yeah, I wrote this!~ I actually wrote some stuff that is special and meaningful, and these artists are digging in and baring themselves” and it reminded me that I can write something special and effective for people. I’m a better writer now for having worked with Rebecca on this play.
REBECCA: I can really relate to all of these characters. Every day I would wake up and think, “I’m a Randy!” and the next day I’d wake up and say “Oh my God! I’m a Marla!” From a very young age my specific, bossy, passionate personality made me a “bad girl.” It made me not fun to be around, “nobody likes a ‘know-it-all.” I grew up Mormon and I’d read the Book of Mormon and go “Hmm… this has inconsistencies” – I always felt like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes who was like: “He’s naked!” And I’ve always been fighting that part of my personality because I thought it made me wicked, to think I knew better and to question and to have a vision and be exacting. And so my whole life my personality was like, “Hey, Rebecca, you’re a director!” but the other part of my personality was like, “No! Don’t step on toes! Don’t be too bossy!” So what a meta-joke that the first play I would ever direct would be a play about “maybe you should just be who you are.” There was actually a piece of dialogue that Bob and I talked about where Marla goes to Ash and says, “You’re treating your gift like it’s something you should run away from, but what if you ran to it and through it?” Rebecca, what if you’re just bossy and that’s what the world needs from you the most? For me this story is my story. It’s about claiming yourself. It was a beautiful experience.
Photo (above) by Jessica Sherman: Kacie Rogers and Marc Forget
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