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Slain in the Spirit

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Lisa Milinazzo
June 18, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Director, Playwright.

What is your show about?
Inspired by the Andrea Yates story, follow Molly’s tragicomic odyssey through a posse of angels, a charmingly dictatorial husband and many eccentric visitors who visit their trailer park bus.

What type of theater do you like most to work on?
I am excited by material which teeters on the edge of comedy and tragedy. I like depicting extreme worlds. My vision is to create a cauldron of peculiar, lively and desperate personalities and circumstances that I want to bring to vibrant life. I often like characters that are dark and able to set in motion horrific consequences, but who also possess theatrical and comedic elements. People who are larger than life. Writers like Tracy Letts, Rebecca Lenkowitz, Alexandra Gersten, Lucy Gough, Eve Ensler seem to embody the nature and landscape that I love to work within. I want to create theater which blends penetrating, truthful moments with gorgeous lyrical theatricality.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I look at my words at arrows, piercing the soul, heart and mind—performing alchemy inside my actors as well as audience. I look at the words of the play in the same way. I use my favorite Dostoevsky quote with my actors: “Everyone has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends … there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself……” I believe that’s the story we should be telling. Each time I begin work on a script and enter into the world of the play to tell the story I must make a decision to do so. At first I see the most obvious journey the characters go on, what they do to and want from each other. Then I try to push myself into the uncomfortable place. The hidden nerve where I’m afraid to go; or excited to go. And I invite my actors into the more private world of the play. And then the journey and the outcome are exciting for all of us.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I wrote this play after learning of the guilty verdict of the Andrea Yates trial. I was initially struck by the horrific idea of a mother killing….DROWNING her own 5 children; and descriptions of the crime scene: children’s hands with the hair of their mother tangled in their fingers. Vomit and feces were found in the tub in which the drowning occurred. It was unfathomable. My overwhelming feelings were of horror and disbelief. But as the information was revealed of Yates’s poorly treated post partum psychotic episodes, I became more upset with the lack of care that Yates had gotten—and the caldron of insanity and pressure that she was under for years. I was angry at the conservative Texan jury who were so limited in their understanding of mental health issues and post partum psychosis. They were trying an extraordinarily psychotic woman for murder, but treating her as simply a murderer. I had a conversion about it at the time with my extremely non-political mother, who was so distraught by the verdict she said, “YOU MUST WRITE A PLAY ABOUT IT!” I decided to develop an ensemble piece; something expressionistic with actors that might convey the inner world of that character and all the forces which converged in an explosion of the great tragedy of those drownings.

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Denzel Washington, Maggie Smith, Ang Lee, Audra McDonald?
I'd love to get a fan letter from Ang Lee. His work is full of heart and soul and I was in one of his student films when we were both studying at NYU!!!

Who are your heroes?
Jane Matilda Bolin: first black woman to serve as a judge; Mahatma Ghandi, Barak Obama, Guillermo del Toro and my dad, Paul John Milinazzo.