A group of former junkies and sex addicts gather in a California beach flophouse to overcome their desires with an aggressive dose of “tough love” group therapy. When a strange young woman shows up on their doorstep, their sobriety, celibacy and faith in each other are all put to the test. The denizens of Zayd Dohrn’s Want follow a new age approach which begs the question: cure or cult?
Coming up, Massive Draft offers you a final First Look post on how a director makes a reading come to life, and then a thorough look at the workshops and readings of plays currently in development at Steppenwolf.
Zayd Dohrn’s Want is currently running as part of Steppenwolf’s 2011 First Look Series, which closes this weekend. Want follows an addiction recovery group that uses “tough love” therapy to achieve a cure. The play raises a thread of questions about the distinctions between “want” and “need,” and whether our consumption-happy society primes us for addiction. At Massive Draft, we decided to look at several historians’ work on the history of addiction to understand how it has been construed as a personal failing, a disease and a social ill over time.Looking over a varietyof differentsources, a broad timeline of the development of the theory of addiction emerges. We looked at alcohol in particular because, according to Harry Levine’s 1978 “The Discovery of Addiction, “the idea that drugs are inherently addicting was first systematically worked out for alcohol and then extended to other substances.”
The Good Creature of God
In terms that sometimes seem a bit exaggerated, the historians we looked at argue that liquor was regarded as the “Good creature of God”— a total social boon— until the late eighteenth century. In his “The Discovery of Addiction,” Harry Levine has this interesting assessment of colonials’ attitudes towards their own drunkenness:
We had our preview performance yesterday. It’s always amazing to see how a play changes in front of an audience. The energy, pace, and scale of the play all felt different. And as a playwright, it’s always interesting to try to read an audience for a new play – you listen not only for obvious reactions, like laughter, but also for the intense silence of engaged listening, and the paper-rustling, seat-shifting noise of a restless crowd. You learn a lot about the play you’ve written – what works, and what needs work. I was also really impressed by the actors – after almost a month of having the play to ourselves in the rehearsal room, it took a big act of courage and generosity to share it so fully on the first night with a room full of strangers. They rose to the challenge, as always, and did a brilliant job. Really looking forward to opening night. (10/28/11)
Man in Love, Oblivion, and Want, the three plays being staged as part of this year’s First Look Repertory of New Work, had their first performances this weekend. We spoke with set designer Chelsea Warren, who built the single adaptable set used in all of these plays, about building a set that can function in both indoor and outdoor spaces, across genres, and a span of 80 years.
Massive Draft: My first question is what you knew when you came on as First Look set designer. Presumably you knew you had to design three plays, but did you know what each was about? Did you get all the scripts at the same time?
Chelsea Warren: When I was offered the First Look Set Design position, I was sent on the 3 scripts. I was given all of them at once.
A glimpse of the First Look set, several weeks before production (Steppenwolf Theatre Company/ Joel Moorman)
And what were the parameters that you were given? I’d imagine there was a budget. But were there specifics about how few or how many things could move? Building materials?
On Friday we enjoyed run-thrus of all three First Look shows. It was a marathon day that had me reflecting on the phases of production. Moving into tech and prepping for an audience generally means the window of opportunity for radical changes is closing.
–Sidebar; there’s a whole discussion to be had about the assumptions that a show needs to be locked. But that’ll be a future post.–
But here in the present I wanted to share this image:
After over three weeks of rehearsal, Man in Love, Oblivion, and Want, the three plays being staged as part of Steppenwolf’s 2011 First Look series, are heading into tech, where they’ll build lights, sound, costumes, and other technical elements into the play.
The rules of rehearsal change in tech: Actors can be called for much longer days. Stage managers take on a more prominent role, making sure to field artistic questions and safety questions from actors, designers, and directors. Other decisions– like whether to run scenes, or just build technical cues– are left up to each individual production team. Here are some observations from the dramaturgs, playwrights, and directors of First Look on how they plan to handle tech.
Kimberly Senior, director, Want.
Kimberly Senior (Steppenwolf Theatre Company/ Joel Moorman)
Um, tech? What’s that? We don’t get to stay in our little third floor nest having amazing discussions about the facets of addiction?!?! Actually I feel quite ready for us to move from the rehearsal room into the theater- it will raise our stakes! We had to stop “writing” the play- I’m sure tweaks will still come but we collectively decided to now rehearse this play. Zayd’s done amazing work- it feels much more dangerous and personal. And we’re finding clarity in both their individual myths and the lore of the group as a whole.
We’re well over two weeks into the rehearsal process for Man in Love, Oblivion, and Want, the three plays being staged as part of Steppenwolf’s 2011 First Look series. Here are some observations from the dramaturgs, playwrights, and directors on what’s happening in the room.
Kimberly Senior, director. Zayd delivered a new draft w/ a substantial rewrite at the end of the play. Having the 101ers visit/ a sense of an audience- brought up the question of comedy for me in the play. On the one hand, they can’t necessarily be “comic” characters- I don’t want to judge them. They are like us, we could be them. So the laughter must arise from a feeling of kinship rather than judgment.
In Want, A group of former junkies and sex addicts gather in a California beach flophouse to overcome their desires with an aggressive dose of “tough love” group therapy.
Throughout Want, David, the leader of the flophouse, tells those who stay there to try to ”understand what we need. Separate that from what we think we want. And stop looking for something we’ll never find.” In its insistence that substance abuse is a choice that addicts can opt out of, David’s mantra seems a far cry from philosophies like that of Alcoholics Anonymous, which maintains that alcoholics “cannot control their drinking because they are ill in their bodies and in their minds.”
So, Massive Draft wants to know: What is your definition of “need” versus “want”? Does thinking about a desire as a need or a want change the way you act on or treat that desire? And have you ever run into a situation where this distinction really mattered?
Aaron Carter, dramaturg on Man In Love. By far the most interesting thing happening so far is exploring the idea that not only is this
1930s film star Mae West, luxuriating (Flickr/ twm1340)
play set in the 1930s, it also has some elements of the performance style of the 1930s. Robert,Christina, and the actors have watched Pinky, and M and have been asked to check out Modern Times and City Lights on their own. There’s now some experimentation happening in the rehearsal room as to what pieces of those styles work with the play. Last time I was in rehearsal, there was a lot of leaning dramatically against the wall as only a 1930s film star can.
Director Kimberly Senior and playwright Zayd Dohrn in conversation
Kimberly Senior: From what seed did the idea for Want grow?
Zayd Dohrn: I saw some close friends move in and out of addictions and rehabs: for alcohol, drugs, anorexia, shopping. The compulsions all seemed to feed each other, and they grew out of a similar impulse, which was both deeply personal and also shared and cultural. It felt like something worth writing about.
KS: Where do you write? Do you have a special space?
ZD: Mostly in coffee shops. Anywhere that’s crowded, noisy, and public. Being around other people makes me feel less distracted. And caffeine makes me feel like I like writing.