Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Playwright Brings Unique British-American Voice to SCR

British-born playwright Bathsheba Doran is an admitted “American-o-phile.”

“There are a few of us,” she jokes. “[Alfred] Hitchcock was one.”

Since childhood, she dreamed of moving to the United States.

“I felt like I was born an American, in England, she says. “I never really felt British. I come from a Jewish family, and I think it’s easier to be a Jew in America. I always just felt very conscious of my otherness. Also, I was raised on American things. I loved American cinema as a child.”
Bathsheba—“Bash” to her friends—has been living in New York for nearly 10 years now and writing plays—two of which are bound for SCR in the next few weeks. The first, Kin, will be read at this week’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. The second, a children’s play called Ben and the Magic Paintbrush, will have its world premiere May 21 through June 6.

Kin brings together a tangled web of family and friends in a story that centers around the romantic relationship between Anna, an academic, and Sean, a personal trainer.

“There’s a lot of humor,” she says, “but there’s a lot of pain as well.”

Though not inspired by any one thing, the play was informed by Doran’s marriage last summer.'

“The play was written over the period of my engagement,” she says. “I think because I was marrying a woman, and it’s not legal to get married, I was having to ask myself some very serious questions about what the point of getting married was…what is the meaning of the ritual?'

“It’s hard not to see it retrospectively as informing the play because it’s really about this process of forming new kinship circles, and certainly it’s very personal in that I was aware of [my own] two extremely different families coming together."

But it was also influenced by her work on the children’s play.

“When I wrote Ben and the Magic Paintbrush, suddenly I was taking these enormous flights of fancy, because with kids you can say ‘somebody’s poisoned and therefore they fall asleep, but they’ll be OK,’ and ‘somebody’s in disguise, but nobody will recognize them.’ There’s this set of ancient conventions that you get to use.”

Doran says the process loosened her imagination and made her lighten up a bit, encouraged her to “push the storytelling a little harder.”

Still, Kin deals with themes that turn up consistently in her work: friendship and living in foreign lands.

Which brings us back to England vs. America.

“I think American people—and British people—love the idea that British theatre is inherently better, but that hasn’t really been my experience. I’ve seen really wonderful theatre in both countries; I’ve seen dreadful theatre in both countries.”

What England has, Doran says, is a venerable canon headed by Shakespeare.

“I think America is still caught up – in a good way – in finding new American voices, whereas England can sort of rest on its laurels. There’s not a great patriotic zeal to find a great British voice because they found one 500 years ago.”

That’s good news for us Americans, who are happy to claim her British-American voice as our own.

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