by Kittson O’Neill
I recently sat down with Mike Lew, author of InterAct Theatre Company‘s current hit play, MICROCRISIS. It was a fun and easy conversation that ranged from the zombie apocalypse to Mike’s very impromptu conversion to Islam. (Oh the things we do for love!) Later reflecting on the interview it got me thinking about what a great range there is in the paths a writer takes from first spark to finished play; and really what a great variety there is in those sparks.
MICROCRISIS, which premiered at MaYi and is getting its Philly premiere with InterAct, is a scathing satire of the financial services industry. The play imagines a second disastrous bubble built on the backs of microcredit recipients, which leaves the world’s poor even more destitute, the middle class closer to disaster, and the ultra rich a whole lot richer. Mike described his inspiration as a near fixation with the 2008 mortgage crash itself. “I was pretty obsessed with the financial crisis when it was happening and wanted to know what the deeper causes were behind it.” He said “I wanted to see what the root causes were.”
From there he realized how vulnerable we still are to bubbles and crashes. He wondered where the next one might come from and realized that a seemingly virtuous movement like microcredit could be the instrument of our destruction and that that had serious comic potential. Mike said,
“I also thought that anything that involves money that’s going to be for the greater good is going to end up getting co-opted, which it has.”
But how do you write a play, with live bodies and some human drama about abstract ideas like credit default swaps and tranching? In Mike’s comedy, the victims and the perpetrators intersect closely, so that we follow the ruin of a Ghanaian entrepreneur and an American school teacher just as closely as the internet wizard and the clueless do-gooder who are the selfish banker’s willing accomplices. We are laughing at the absurdity, but we also feel for them as the financial machine grinds them to a pulp.
Mike says his plays don’t always start out with such strong emotional arcs. He jokingly describes himself as a bit “robotic.” Lucky for him he’s married to playwright, Rehana Mirza. Together they run the MaYi Writers Lab and they often serve as dramaturgs for each other. He credits Rehana with pushing his characters into more emotionally truthful actions. “If you read (my first draft) people are behaving like sociopaths and it’s like, how can I follow this if I can’t invest in anybody?” he says. She pushes him to think as deeply about emotional logic as he does about the logic of plot and action. The result is a very funny play with a totally plausible plot driven by complicated financial instruments and a truly human cost at its climax.
Two separate ideas, both very much in the news, mixed inside a vivid imagination and guided by an emotionally astute dramaturg, make for a play that sits right in the heart of InterAct’s mission. Lucky us!
Kittson O’Neill © (7 February 2012)
Microcrisis by Mike Lew, directed by Seth Rozin, sets by Caitlin Lainoff, costumes by Anna Frangiosa, lighting by Peter Whinney, sound design by Mark Valenzuela, properties by Avista Custom Theatrical Services, stage manager Tom Helmer, production manager Daniel X. Guy, dramaturgy by Kittson O’Neill, production assistant Rebecca Dennis, technical director Britt Plunkett. Production runs until February 12, 2012 at The Adrienne, 2030 Samson Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (215) 568-8079 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (215) 568-8079 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
WITH: Kevin Bergen (Bennett), Maia Desanti (Chavez), Hannah Gold (Lydia), Dave Johnson (Randy), Bi Jean Ngo (Clare, Beta Test), Frank X (Acquah, Frankfurt).
To find out more about Mike, visit his website: www.MikeLew.com.
To find out more about InterAct, and to listen so some of my interview, visit here: http://interacttheatrecompany.blogspot.com/2012/01/talking-with-mike-lew-playwright-of.html