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Incendiary Agents

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Jack Karp
February 7, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

What is your show about?
At the height of the Vietnam War, two brothers attempt a daring nighttime raid to sabotage the draft, but when their plan goes awry, they are each forced to choose between the principles they set out to defend and the people they care about.

What type of theater do you like most to work on?
The type of theater I enjoy working on most is theater that challenges the audience and forces them out of their comfort zone in some way. This can involve finding ways to surprise an audience by delivering something on stage they’ve been primed not to expect or turning around various theatrical conventions. Or it can be as simple as using the action or dialogue of a play to make the audience confront certain uncomfortable truths about the society we live in. "Incendiary Agents" certainly falls into the latter category. I find that the longer I write, the more political my theater becomes, and I have a greater appreciation for plays that encourage people to think deeply about issues without dictating to them what to think. I strive for my plays, "Incendiary" included, to have little in them that is black and white. I like making the audience decide for themselves who are the good guys and the bad guys.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I do theater as opposed to film or TV because I am fascinated with the electricity that comes from having live action on stage in front of a live audience. There is a connection and a danger inherent in that dynamic that, to me, allows theater to have much more of an emotional punch than other forms of entertainment. Watching a character be murdered or fall apart over a lost love or discover a betrayal is much more visceral when that character is in the room with you, maybe only a few feet away. I am also intrigued by the idea that the audience’s being physically in the room with the characters as the action of a play unfolds (and the implied choice that requires to not interfere with the action) makes the audience complicit in the play in a way they’re not with film. For me, nothing is as powerful as being in the room with a character as opposed to being in the room with a screen.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I wanted to write "Incendiary Agents" for many reasons. But the play compelled me mainly because, despite being set over 40 years ago, the story is incredibly relevant to the world we live in today. Having just pulled out of an arguably illegal and disastrous war of choice in Iraq and still being entrenched in another in Afghanistan, and with certain of our leaders already rattling their swords over Iran and North Korea, the choices the characters are faced with in this play are very similar to the choices we as a nation still face today. Given our history, it will likely not be that long before we are once again asked as citizens to decide if we want to send our sons and daughters to fight in a foreign country for reasons that may not be clear (or may be out and out lies) and if we don’t address those issues in our theater and our art and our discourse, we will end up addressing them in battle. I don’t intend "Incendiary" to tell an audience how they should think about these issues, but I do hope the play forces people to think about them.

Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
Surprising.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I do genuinely believe theater can bring about societal change and does so all the time. It is the job of artists of all kinds, but especially theater artists, to confront audiences with the things we generally don’t want to think about. Theater is especially deft at this because it allows people to actually watch how certain aspects of our society and certain choices we have made as a country play out in the lives of characters rather than simply being told about them. For me, a play is a success if the people who come to see it are still arguing over it and thinking about it hours and days later. Those discussions are the seeds of change and plays are the sowers of those seeds. I hope "Incendiary Agents" can accomplish that.