Khanzadian: Wendy, why don’t you also talk a little bit about how you structured your play as a one-person play, and why you chose to do that particular format.
Graf: Okay, that’s a really good question. Because I actually had one theatre company that wanted to do the play, but wanted me to make it a multi-character play. In 2011 or 2012, I wrote a play that was a one-woman play called No Word in Guyanese For Me [that Khanzadian directed], and the actress played ten different characters. And when I started this… I’m a very (pause)… when I write, I don’t plan it out. I don’t have a map —
Khanzadian: An outline.
Graf: An outline. I just follow my heart and see where my characters lead me. And this particular time, in all honesty, the last play I did was a multi-character play, this particular play just came out.
Khanzadian: Did you channel Katie?
Graf: I did! I channeled her!
Khanzadian: What’s unique about staging this show — it is a one-woman play (I insist on the word play as opposed to show, because it is a play), and it’s one actor depicting all the other characters in the play, and moving along in that way. There are many challenges, particularly for the actor doing the role of so many characters. But it’s also a lot of fun… to be able to put on a mask, and take it off, and change that mask in an instant, and to be able to talk to oneself as if the room is full of people. And also, to create an environment that can morph into more than a dozen scenes with absolutely no change of scenery.
Graf: Let me ask you this. You’ve done so many one-person plays… what was different about this one?
Khanzadian: Well, first of all, I have usually done one-person plays that the actor has written. So it’s different… but basically it’s still the same problems that need to be solved. How do I get from this scene to that scene? How do I get this character to become the other character? How do I physicalize it — how do I move, where do I go? So I think of it very often almost like a ballet, because we have to move, we have to speak, and we have to have a sense of… musicality in the whole piece. Because rhythms change, scenes change.
Graf: I think today was a good example. We worked on a scene today where the actress said, “Can we go through this scene? Because I’m kind of muddy between the changing of this character to that character… and do I put my hand here?” and all that…
Khanzadian: It’s really… when you’re shifting from one character to another, and this is something actors know… it’s not profile profile, sit stand sit stand, but each transformation has to occur from the original character. The character says one thing, and the other character is responding to that, so the actor has to be able to incorporate that transition. And it becomes easier when you just let yourself do that, and take the time to do that, and the accents or the voice will change organically.
Graf: I think organically has kind of been one of the big words for this play. That was one of the challenges in the play… making it organic, and not making it politically didactic.
That was probably the biggest challenge in writing it… the first draft that Anita [read], the girl was a suicide bomber, she was very unsympathetic. The first reading that we had, it was over and it was so quiet during the reading that you could have heard a pin drop, but when the reading was over… everyone said, “I hate her.” So one of the challenges was writing the character in a way that the audience could get inside of her… could hop on her journey, take her journey with her…
Khanzadian: But one thing is important here. We’re not out to win a popularity contest. You may still hate her and you’re allowed to still hate her. And maybe just going on this girl’s journey will give us a little bit of insight on what’s happening today out there. But you don’t have to love her, you don’t have to like her. [We are] trying to understand how this girl becomes radicalized, and how so many people are becoming radicalized, because from what I’ve garnered from all the ISIL kids that go out to Syria and Iraq, they’re trying to find something meaningful — bigger than themselves. There’s something about their own lives that doesn’t seem to be panning out for them. And that’s very sad.
Graf: And there’s also the element of the crack in the American Dream, for immigrants. One of our characters is an immigrant.
Khanzadian: That’s right.
Graf: I think that there’s been so many immigrants who have come over to the U.S. having – I guess – high hopes, and they found a crack in the American Dream. And so do they turn right, find something else, and work harder, or do they turn left and succumb to another place?
I want the play to challenge the audience as well as the characters to confront their own deeply held notions of violence being justified, who the “Other” is, and to sit in the audience and as you watch the play unfold, ask yourself, how much do I hold onto preconceived stereotypes about “those” people, and notions about right and wrong.
NOW PLAYING: All American Girl by Wendy Graf, running through July 26. Starring Jeanne Syquia and Annika Marks (alternating).
Who will save the children? All American Girl follows Katie, a bright and attractive girl committed to rescuing innocents from hardship and poverty, as she evolves into a passionate extremist. How does a seemingly ordinary American kid become radicalized? Is violence ever justified?