Vancouver-based writer, director and theatre scholar, Fay Nass concludes her year at the Firehall Arts Centre as Associate Artist with a production of Sheila Callaghan’s Lascivious Something, a provocative play about love and soured American idealism.
In this Q&A with director Nass, we find out more about Lascivious Something, its connection to Greek mythology, and her work as Associate Artist at the Firehall.
Set on a secluded Greek vineyard as Ronald Reagan is about to be elected to his first term as President, Lascivious Something tells the story of an expatriate who has swapped his American materialism for an idyllic life on a secluded island. With the appearance of his social activist ex-girlfriend though he finds himself in a sexy showdown as a love triangle devolves into a metaphorical, alcohol-fueled parable.
What drew you to the play?
I love the poetic language of the play and the fact that it is a multi-layered text. On the surface the play is naturalistic, dealing with a triangle of love, sex and relationship; however, when you dig deeper the script is very political and detailed. Wine and harvest are used metaphorically to talk about American politics, but really, I think the political message can be true for any nation. I love the fact that there is no hero in the play and all the imperfections in every character. There is nothing black and white, all the characters and everything exists in a fine line between good and evil, love and hate, ethics and temptation, reality and fantasy and so on. Thirdly, the aspect of another language in the play, in this case, Greek, intrigued me; I think it adds an authentic and honest quality to the environment of the play. Finally, one of the major interests of my theoretical work has been on what makes theatre “erotic”. To me, an erotic play is not about portraying sex, but portraying the tension the “space in between” wanting and touch, the “tango” between the characters and effectively between the actors and the audience. Lascivious Something beautifully does this thematically, aesthetically and linguistically.
The play takes place during Reagan’s rise in the White House – is there a connection to 2015 for audiences?
Absolutely, this is precisely why I was interested in doing this play at this time. I think this play is very important and timeless, as it deals with the consequences of our choices, in politics, in relationships and in life. Sometimes, we lose grip of the reality, our emotions lead us to do crazy things and make impulsive decisions that lead into horrible consequences. In life, this can lead to a break-up, heartbreak or a bad hangover, but as a society, these decisions have far more damaging consequences like choosing a party that violates human rights, creates segregation and discrimination and makes decisions that will lead to environmental disasters. Canada is a country that has always been praised for its democracy, human rights, freedom and diversity, today is a country with class system citizenship (Bill C-24), who could imagine? I have lived here longer than I have lived in Iran, but suddenly I am a “second class citizen.” We can only reflect on our choices in retro-aspect, once a bottle of wine is open; there is no undoing it. So perhaps we should think before we open that bottle.
The playwright repeats scenes with different outcomes – is the intent to allow us to decide what is real and what is not, or is it another means to an end?
I definitely think that the intent is to show the possibility of two realities; either of which can be as real as the other, but they each will have different outcomes. However, I think Ms. Challaghan specifically has created a system in which one reality deals with the subtext, the unspoken thoughts and uncensored expressions. The second reality is the reality of ethics, controlled thoughts and silence that is full of secret and lies, but somehow more honourable from a social standpoint
There are references to Greek myths and legends – how do they add to the Callaghan’s story?
It seems that Ms. Challaghan symbolically presents August as Dionysus, Daphne as Sappho, and the part-human, part-animal Liza portraying one of the Bacchantes. She does talk in her introduction that in her stay in Greece (having a Greek partner) she knew she wanted to use Greek mythology in a contemporary form. For me though, the usage of myth is political. Myth belongs to the past, stories that are part of our history but are now removed. I approach it as the idea of the American dream is a myth. August representing the United States just like Dionysus, the God of excess, Liza is the wild but dedicated past (history) and Daphne is the romanticized and dangerous present side of America (also the side that is constantly interfering with international affairs) and the Boy is the generation that is too “drunk” to notice what is happening. I think the complexity and tragic aspect of Greek mythology is a great platform to create deeper connections to politics and personal relationships.
The play comes with warnings of nudity and sexual content – how do you handle those elements so they do not step over the line of mere titillation?
The play is erotic; the sexual content of the play is very human. One of the least sexual moments of the play is the actual nudity, as it is not a moment of sexual seduction but rather a moment of transparency and vulnerability. I think sex is a very natural and important human aspect of our lives and unfortunately there are so many stigmas attached to it in our culture and not enough when it comes to the topic of violence.
What do you hope audiences will take away after seeing the show?
I hope to entertain the audience while stimulating their mind. I hope this phantasmagorical play allow us to make wiser, more educated decisions for our next Federal election so hopefully we won’t live in a state of constant hang over.
You are currently the yearly associate artist at the Firehall – what does that job entail?
This is the end of my journey at Firehall; it has been a fantastic experience. I feel lucky to have this opportunity and to learn new things while applying my skills in the job. My job included but was not limited to: performing as an assistant director for all Firehall plays such Urinetown and Post secret, scripts reading and helping with the selection process, writing reviews and on the scripts and plays around the city for the Executive Director. I was also the curator and co-producer of this year’s BC BUDS festival, “Longing and Belonging” which involved: concept curation, project selection, budgeting, scheduling, contracting and executing the four-day festival with over 30 performances.
Lascivious Something plays the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) June 24-27. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.