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The Boat in the Tiger Suit

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Hank Willenbrink
August 14, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

What is your show about?
At the funeral of their father, Rene and April form tacit allegiances which are tried and tested as their family stares into an uncertain future of turbulent waters which may contain tigers.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in the Daniel Boone National Forest, outside of Hazard, Kentucky. Yes, that Hazard, as in "Dukes of..." But, I grew up in Conway, Arkansas. Which, I recently discovered, is where a new member of the Big Brother cast is from. As soon as I could get out of Arkansas, I did and went to undergrad at the University of Tulsa before moving to the University of California, Santa Barbara, to work with Naomi Iizuka, where I did my Masters and Ph.D.

Complete this sentence: My show is the only one opening in NYC this summer that...?
has a tiger, a two boats, a funeral that goes haywire, ghosts, anatomical revelations, knife-wielding middle schoolers, addresses the rise of China, US imperialism, and Danny Aiello.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
I just came back from a rehearsal where I saw something utterly wonderful. It's a tiny moment of convergence, where hands are linked and a broken bond is recreated for only a moment. Honestly, it's been such a pleasure to see a several moments like this materialize. There's also a toast which rings with subtext. These moments are the kind that I love as an audience member -- when connections happen between there characters that I have to put together through my imagination. They're incredibly dense and multi-layered with history and the present all woven together. It's what keeps me going to the theater and I'm pumped to see these moments in my play.

Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo?
The obvious choice here is Groucho. He had the best lines. Zeppo, well lets face it, the best work he did was as the agent for the brothers, which is no small task. Chico was the set up guy. I've read that Harpo was the brains, though, the guy who keep the whole show rolling. I admire that. Here's a guy who puts everything together and then doesn't say anything in the movies. So, yeah, Harpo.

How important is diversity to you in the theater you see/make?
Incredibly important. In many ways this show wouldn't have been written if it wasn't for many new, diverse voices which have entered into my life in the past years. We have a sort of blind privilege in the United States. Because we're a nation of immigrants, we sometimes assume that we only have to look within our borders to be diverse. But the truth is that a diversity of people and experience necessitates a holistic and borderless perspective. I went down the the Festival iberoamericano de teatro in Bogota in April 2012 and was floored by what I saw. The productions were gorgeous, sensuous, evocative, and impressive. And, I don't speak much Spanish. When one show moved to NYC, it was critiqued as being too imagistic and not literal enough. That review was a real wake up call for me, because it assumed that every show that came into New York had to abide by New York rules. The challenge, for me, was clear: how can we create art in an international context without watering down the local, which makes performances a riveting event? As an artist, I want a diversity of experience thrive in imagination regardless of geography.