Wilbury Theatre Group presents Charlie Thurston’s "Lifted," a modern meditation on the Icarus myth, directed by Josh Short outdoors at WaterFire Arts Center, Oct. 21 through Nov. 20. The production features Daraja Hinds, Victor Neto and Jim O’Brien.
We spoke with playwright Charlie Thurston about the production and his career in local theater. Check it out below and grab your tickets to "Lifted" today.
1. You called this play a “meditation” on the Icarus tale — what does that mean exactly, and how much did that inspiration factor into the writing of the play itself?
I describe it as a meditation because my story is inspired by and in conversation with the mythology as opposed to directly adapted from it. The play samples images (ex. humans taking flight) and themes (the desire to escape) but rebels against the myth in one critical way. “Lifted,” unlike the Icarus tale, isn’t a story culminating in hubris. I’m not interested in perpetuating the concept that bad behavior leads to one’s comeuppance. We don't see much of that in the real world. Too often, because of a mixture of societal failures and bad luck, tragedy happens to the innocent.
2. Why do you think humankind has always been obsessed with flying?
Because it would be awesome! Right?! Defying the hold of gravity and taking off, exploring the sky — this massive frontier otherwise off limits to us non-pilots. And the sensations! It would be like driving with the windows down on the highway times 1,000. And beyond the bodily thrill of it, I think we're drawn to it for more conceptual reasons. I believe that for all of us, even if we love our life, there are moments — some long, some short — when we desperately want to take off, to escape it all. To have immediate, nonsensical freedom. Flying is the embodiment of that concept. Some part of us longs for it.
3. Since Wilbury's production is outdoors, have you had to adapt the play at all for the performance location?
You know, I haven't really. The play is actually set outside. The action all takes place in a backyard. So having the sky above and the unpredictable sounds of the city surrounding us should be really thrilling. If anyone has had to adapt their work it's the designers. Some scenes in the play take place during the day while others take place at night. Suggesting that, when the real sun and moon won't cooperate with the story is no easy feat.
4. Rhode Islanders might know you from your appearances on Trinity Rep's stage. How does being an actor inform your playwriting?
Stage acting is a unique beast. Yes, playing make-believe from an honest, personal place is harder than it looks, but there are also the techniques required to navigate the emotional and intellectual shifts within any given script, and to present those shifts to a live audience. Having practiced those techniques and that exploration of personal truth many times, at the very least, I understand what is required of the actors portraying my characters. And I like to believe that knowing how the sausage is made comes in handy. Having to construct characters and dissect narrative as an actor is a great workout regimen for tackling it as a playwright.
5. The play takes place in the "near future." Realistically, how long until we reach that future?
Oof. The story exists in a future world with a very altered ecosystem, presumably from climate change. At the first moment of the play, we learn that all birds have been extinct for over a decade. Can you imagine how different the world would be if such a massive part of animal life was extinct? That world must have a pretty different-looking food chain. So it's certainly a few generations off.
6. The characters are so well-developed, they all feel like protagonists in this story. Is there one character, in particular, who is the hero in this story?
Oooooh, fun question. But I ain't answering it! The folks in the audience will have to decide that for themselves.
(Photo credit: Erin X. Smithers)