LDS playwright Matthew Greene made his professional debut this past August at the New York International Fringe Festival with #MORMONINCHIEF, which also received at staged reading from Plan-B Theatre Company at THE ROSE EXPOSED this past September.
The aphorism goes that you should “write what you know.” As a twenty-six-year-old Mormon boy from the suburbs of Northern California, this advice has always troubled me. Truth be told, I haven’t known much that makes for good drama. I was raised in a nice home by nice parents, went to a nice school and a nice church, and grew up into the nice young man I am now. Not that I’m complaining. I love, and have always loved, my life. It’s only when I sit down to write that I start to get worried. Worried that there’s no cigarette dangling from my lips, no painful past to haunt me. I have, in my admittedly short time as a writer, fabricated quite a bit of material that lies far beyond the bounds of my own experience. ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, however, was different.
As I watched the drama of Proposition 8 unfold in California (and elsewhere), I was shocked by the widespread intolerance and the crippling ignorance that seemed to dominate public and private discourse. I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was caught up in a war zone where principles were defended, hearts were broken, and lives were changed. This, of course, is the stuff playwrights’ dreams are made of, but I didn’t see it that way. Suddenly my principles were in question, my heart was broken, and my life was changed, though I couldn’t see yet that it was for the better. Overwhelmed, I started to write.
It was a simple story: two best friends, coming of age. Dealing with the tumult I was going through myself. It wasn’t long before I realized: I was writing what I knew! I’ve been a teenage boy, a Mormon missionary, and an ailing twenty-something before. I’ve been a friend, a son, and a brother. And I’ve been personally affected by the gay marriage debate in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. Some events in the play are pulled straight from my personal history and the rest is based on experiences of those close to me. Of everything I’ve written, this play hits closest to home.
As I do with any project, I brought to this script my own questions and explored territory where black and white answers fade into gray. When asked what I’m “trying to say” with this (or any) play, I answer in terms of what I’m trying to ask. Should personal convictions ever override a human relationship? What happens when you lose something you believe in? And why do two groups of people who claim to aspire to ideals of love have such a hard time with one another?
It’s true, those who know me best can see the autobiography woven into this script. But as I’ve worked on this piece I’ve come to understand the “write-what-you-know” admonition a little differently. I’m part of an interesting religious tradition in which members of the congregation stand up and state publicly things that they know. While such remarks are often based in personal experience, they branch out from there into more grand, transcendent territory. In this context, I profess to know so much more than meets the middle-class suburban eye, things far beyond my tangible grasp. Still, I know them. I know that faith is a basic human instinct, that love is a healing balm, and that it is often through each other that we glimpse divinity.
I lived through the events depicted in this play. But more than that, I learned the same hard-won lessons the characters do and have come to embrace the truths that I hope grace the text of this play. Most importantly, I have asked the questions that lie at the foundation of the story and, as I hope is the case with everyone, am in search of the answers.
Matthew Greene’s ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, featuring Logan Tarantino & Topher Rasmussen and directed by Jason Bowcutt, receives its world premiere January 31-February 10, 2013 at Plan-B Theatre Company. Click here for more information, including details on subscribing to our 2012/13 season, opening December 18!