Director Alex Keegan (L) and playwright Kirby Fields take a few questions from UP’s artistic director James Bosley about this vital new play, Lost/Not Found.
Kirby, a lot has changed in the world since you showed us the first draft of Lost/Not Found in the summer of 2014. As you’ve re-written it for this production, have you done so with an ear on current events? And does the play resonate in ways that it didn’t back when you began it?
KIRBY: The script has evolved in a way that it probably would have no matter who had won the election. However, I do think themes have emerged throughout the process that have taken on a different sense of urgency in light of the country’s shifting dynamics. An audience member who had seen the draft that preceded the November election might have walked away thinking that the play was concerned with affordable housing in New York City, which would have been a fair takeaway. Given the scope of challenges that the country currently faces, however, that probably won’t be at the fore of someone’s mind who sees the play now. At the risk of being presumptuous, an audience member who sees the current version is more likely to interpret it on a national scale, as a portrayal of an entire subset of the population that is being, at best, ignored and, at worst, discarded.
Alex, you and Kirby have worked together before when you directed his comedy, Steal This Play. Can you identify any quirks or tendencies common to both that we might call “Kirby-esque?”
ALEX: Kirby has a knack for dialogue, especially fun, comedic banter that’s underscored by something far more intimate or sinister. When I first read Lost/Not Found I was stifling laughter while also absolutely distressed about the situations the characters found themselves in. We had a conversation early on about the characters’ likability. The characters in this play, as in Steal This Play, are complex and often drawn to unethical choices, yet they are also charming, which creates a dilemma for an audience. On the one hand, we’re aware that much of what the characters are doing is ethically questionable; on the other hand, we like them and understand the circumstances that brought them to these choices. In this way, he invites audiences into their world without prescribing judgment. He also writes with an incredibly specific tone that’s fun to capture in the staging.
Kirby, you live in Washington Heights, the neighborhood where the play takes place, and blocks away from where it will be performed. Does that put an extra spring in your step now as you walk down Broadway?
KIRBY: Of course I have extra pep in my step going to and from rehearsal. On some nights I’m even able to have dinner with my wife and kids beforehand. Frank Oliva, our set designer extraordinaire, also lives uptown, and he mentioned that he has never had an opportunity to work on a show that he can walk to. And, yes, the play itself is very much rooted in the neighborhood. The GW Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse play a big part. La Marina gets a veiled shout-out, and the characters live on 187th Street. Meanwhile, we are rehearsing at a church on the corner of 181st and Ft. Washington, and even changed a line to reference a certain pizzeria across the street. But the best part is blasting out invites to friends who live in the area: “Come see UP’s new show. You have to cross exactly one street and you’re there!”
Alex, your career focuses almost exclusively on new work. Why so?
ALEX: I enjoy the challenge of building the world in which the playwright’s narrative and characters will first live. I often find myself asking of new plays questions like – why does the scene proceed? Why doesn’t she leave in this moment? Of course you can ask the same questions of classics, but there’s an immediacy to interrogating new work that I find thrilling. When we find the answers to these “whys” in rehearsal—when a re-write provides clarity, or we sort out a character’s narrative arc, and all of us fully understand why these characters stay on stage together, why the scene proceeds—there’s something triumphant about it, that moment when a new play clicks.