Thursday, March 10, 2016

Celebrity, Stalkers and Parents

by Kimberly Colburn
Cosplay at the Comic Con San Diego
Crowds at Comic Con San Diego

Chiara is a child star who has grown up in the spotlight, always with her doting mother, Crystal, at her side. Growing up in Nebraska, Crystal had few options open to her. An unhappy marriage left Crystal with hope for a better life through her only daughter. She took Chiara’s childhood dreams of stardom seriously, and parlayed that into helping create a child star. Rolling the dice, Crystal moved them from their lakeside home that was far from the spotlight to heed the siren call of Los Angeles and all its glory. Success didn’t happen overnight but, with Crystal’s guidance, Chiara persisted. Chiara’s now 23, and she and Crystal have enjoyed the luxury grown from their humble beginnings. They’ve both gotten a chance to see the world…though through grueling film shoots and press junkets.

Now Chiara has a plum role on a popular science-fiction television series called Odyssey. When she makes an appearance at Comic Con, a huge annual gathering that celebrates comic books, movies and television series related to the sci-fi/fantasy genre, an allegedly deranged fan, Peter, is apprehended as he comes near her booth. Last year at the convention, he tried to give her a vial of his blood, so this time he was quickly spotted and bodyguard Sandy whisked Chiara back to her hotel room for safety. Sandy has been in charge of protecting her for years, and spends more time with her than he possibly could with his own kid.

Future Thinking by Eliza Clark opens as Peter is being questioned in a makeshift space by Jim, the head of security. Jim has taken it upon himself to interrogate Peter, biding his time until they know if Chiara’s “people” are going to press charges. Jim fancies himself a future cop, and he’s using Peter to practice his techniques and act out a fantasy of his own. Peter insists that he’s been misunderstood—even last year, because the vial of blood he attempted to give Chiara was not a threat of violence, but instead a meaningful gift that only fans of the show would understand (in the world of Odyssey, clean blood is the only valuable currency). Peter tries valiantly to explain himself, but Jim doesn’t watch the show and can’t possibly understand.

Meanwhile, Crystal and Sandy tend to Chiara, who responds to her gilded-cage life with childish histrionics and hilariously obnoxious acting-out. All three quickly become too wrapped up in their own concerns to worry about the man being held downstairs. The demands of upholding a public image and the accompanying lifestyle it requires recently have begun to take their toll on all of them, and Chiara is chafing at what it means to have your mother double as your career counselor.

The notion of celebrity is a familiar one to playwright Clark. Though she did spend time as a child actor, she’s quick to point out that the play is not autobiographical, and the humor in Chiara and Crystal’s relationship is purely from her imagination. Clark has drawn from many sources of inspiration  to inform the play’s thematic territory, including the fact that she has recently become a mother herself. She’s also married to another writer, Zac Whedon, who writes films and comic books, and she’s attended Comic Con with him so has seen first-hand the role-playing, awkwardly funny moments, and obsessions with a fantasy world that can permeate fandom.

Chiara calls Crystal’s role as a mother into question, while finding that the public role she plays might be more limiting behind closed doors. Crystal enjoys the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to but doesn’t know what to make of her spoiled daughter. Sandy’s trying to keep the peace, but perhaps has become a little too entwined in Crystal and Chiara’s lives. In another space, Jim is role-playing the cop hero he’s always dreamed he could be, and poor Peter is trapped. He is dressed as his favorite character from his favorite show, but Peter’s intentions in reaching out to Chiara are different than what Jim assumes. Everyone’s got a fantasy and a role to play, and by the end of Future Thinking the worlds—of fantasy, reality, fame and parenthood—all collide in this comedy that asks surprisingly deep questions.

Heidi Dippold, Jud Willford, director Lila Neugebauer, Arye Gross, Virginia Vale, Enver Gjokaj and playwright Eliza Clark on the first day of rehearsal for Future Thinking.
The Road to Production

Clark’s play first appeared at South Coast Repertory as a reading in the 2014 Pacific Playwrights Festival. It returns as a full production, helmed by the same director, Lila Neugebauer (who previously directed SCR’s Trudy and Max in Love by Zoe Kazan). Clark and Neugebauer are longtime friends, having met as freshmen in college, but this is the first major production they’ve had the chance to collaborate on. Neugebauer has assembled a cast that includes SCR veteran Arye Gross playing Peter—the first of many shows he was in at SCR was The Time of Your Life in 1978. Heidi Dippold (Smokefall) and Virginia Vale (The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois) return to our stages, while Enver Gjokaj and Jud Williford make their SCR debuts.

Learn more about the cast.

Learn more and buy tickets.

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