Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Oxygen?

I was asked the following questions by Taffety Punk's P.R. person, KM, about Ivan Vyrypaev's Oxygen and why I brought it to the theatre for them to consider producing it.  I thought I would share the questions I was asked and my answers here.

1. What resonates most with you about the play?

I was in in western Poland on September 11, 2001. 

My mother called me to tell me a plane had just struck the World Trade Center.  I remember dropping the phone and running down the stairs where I was staying to make it just in time to see the live shot of the second plane striking the WTC.  I remember the following moments involved me hyperventilating, searching out air with my lips.  

Ever since then I have been searching for oxygen in many, many ways.

I was visiting family and friends in Poland during the prior two weeks, and was leaving for several train rides across the continent of Europe on my way to study abroad in England.  On September 13th I stopped in Munich.  On September 16th I was in Amsterdam, and just a few short days later I was in London, just a stop on my way to a sleepy southwest English town called Totnes.

As an American I saw much of the following year's worth of events unfold from outside my country's borders while splitting time between Poland and England and traveling with a theatre company on various projects.  I officially returned to the United States a year and three months after 9/11, but in some ways I felt like I never really came back.  I still do.  The America I knew was hermetically sealed away in my mind, and I felt like I was now always looking at the country I grew up in, my country, with a completely different set of eyes and ears from a void in space...mostly because of the things I experienced in those first days, weeks, and months after 9/11.

I encountered people who had anti-semitic theories about the end of the world, like a rich American business man in Munich who told me about his limo drivers who were all from "The Arab World" who were like soothsayers of "the coming American apocalypse" because of "our involvement in Israel."

I met people who would ask if I was an American, and then would promptly thank me for dragging them into their war when I said I was one, and that any additional violence against my country we had earned because of our actions pre-and-post 9/11.

Then I reacquainted myself with my country...where all my friends would look up at the sky whenever they heard a plane going overheard with great anxiety...and I simply wondered what they were so scared about.  Why were they holding their breath?

I felt at once detached from my American-ness (let's call it), and yet completely affected by it.  I was neither "one of us" nor "one of them."  I suddenly had a fully detached eye and ear for everything from my American friends, as well as my European friends, and other internationals acquaintances. 

I felt like no person, no artistic expression, no piece of literature, no music, nothing could have expressed exactly what I felt, and the swirl of disjointed, yet seemingly connected thoughts spiraling around my head.

Then sometime in 2007 or 08, a professor at Towson University handed me a copy of Oxygen.  I thought, and felt, like Ivan Vyrypaev had put my thoughts and experiences, in some semi-distant way, onto paper. 

It had a strange mix of Christian, Judaic, Arab, Eastern European, American, European, international and yet local viewpoints that I have struggled with discerning for most of my life since 9/11.  

I don't know what the play itself says.

I still don't know if it has a formal message.  

It certainly has plenty of questions.

However, what ultimately draws me to it is this sense of a writer, an artist, and a person who is tired of history and tired of trying to read between the lines in order to figure out the subtextual meaning of all the world's madness, especially when none of us are very sure which lines to read between anymore.  It's a script that rips apart conventions of performance and replaces them with a shattered vision of the world that is a mosaic of impulsive and improvised creativity, disciplined performance, thorough character study, as well as anarchic destruction of all forms.

I think of the last line of the play which references a meteorite from cold, cold space falling on the generation of Sasha and Sasha.  After viewing the film Armageddon in the late 90s I used to say to most of my friends, whenever they were feeling a bit sad or anxious, that they shouldn't worry because a meteorite from space was going to crush us all and obliterate all our sins and none of this mattered anyway.  I used to say that as a joke.  When I saw Vyrypaev offered that as a final image to this piece, I was sold on it for good.  I don't know if he meant it as a cruel, sarcastic joke, or as a relief from carrying the world's burdens.  I knew I wanted to perform this order to find out what it was to find out what happened to my America, my world, which was obliterated by several silver meteorites on 9/11.

Then maybe I'll be able to breathe again...

2. What compelled you to bring Oxygen to Taffety Punk? 

I always liked Marcus' approach to this thing called "punk rock theatre."

We have always talked about what it meant to have the dedication of a highly-trained, diligent artist, but the ability to toss away any inhibitions that would allow us to take on new forms of theatre, and challenging content.  

Whenever I see a play, or performance piece at Taffety Punk I felt like it was a breath of fresh air.  This play needed an environment where Oxygen could thrive.  This theatre is that place.

3. How will you be approaching the stylized language and format of the play, as an actor?

I'm going to approach it the same way I've approached language my whole a strange man in a strange land just trying to learn the language.

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