By Gregory Moss
World Premiere Performance
The Firehouse Center for the Arts
The Argument is the story of two young twin sisters who inherit a Big Easy watering hole. The bar has dominated, or consumed, their lives. One sister wants to sell the business, to leave, to live. The other believes it's her "duty" to carry on. This is the argument, which ends when flood waters claim the life of one sister. The surviving sister then begins a quest to give the life unlived by the dead sister back to her.
New Moss Play: 'Argument' sparks dialogue
By J.C. Lockwood
Fri Jun 15, 2007, 07:59 AM EDT
In September 2005, Newburyport playwright Gregory S. Moss packed his bags for Florida. He had enrolled in a three-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. It was a last-minute decision and Moss, the founder of Independent Submarine, was having a bit of buyer's remorse. It came at a bad time. The residency conflicted with his work, his plans and his life. Still, it was important: The program puts together established and emerging artists.
Moss would be working with Paula Vogel, who won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for "How I Learned To Drive," and an Obie for best play for "The Baltimore Waltz" in 1992. It's hard to walk away from that.
All the participants had the same assignment: To write a play using certain pre-determined common elements - and to produce a working draft in 48 hours. Hurricane Katrina had just passed. New Orleans was drowning, the Gulf Coast was still a mess.
"And there was a growing sense that something was wrong. There was a sense that no one was looking over us," says Moss. Against this social and political backdrop, Moss wrote "The Argument."
The play, which will be staged through June 17 at the Firehouse Center, is the story of two young Chinese twin sisters who inherit a Big Easy watering hole. The bar had dominated, or consumed, their lives. One sister wants to sell the business, to leave, to live.
The other believes it's their "duty" to carry on. This is the argument, which ends when flood waters claim the life of one sister. The surviving sister then begins a quest to give the life unlived by the dead sister back to her. The play is a metaphor for Katrina. It was conceived as a response to the disaster, but it doesn't play as such. It addresses the issues raised, and still unresolved, without directly invoking the actual events. Moss, whose last local production was "The Yankee City Theater Project," a collaboration with Steven Haley that sold out its run at the Firehouse, says it is still too close to confront the disaster directly.
"It's more like a fairy tale," he says. "The idea is to defamiliarize the audience, so instead of saying, 'Oh, yeah, it's about Katrina,' it allows the audience to engage with the events in meaningful way. It lets them reposition themselves in relation to events."
But anyone considering attending the one-weekend only production of "The Argument" based on warm, fuzzy memories of "Yankee City," a nostalgic look at "old, weird Newburyport," beware: This production is a completely different animal.
"It's pretty dark," says Moss. "It's tender at heart, even though it's ... I don't know, harsh?"
"Like in Beckett, it's about life and death," says director Steven Haley, "and there's no separation between the two."
On the strength of "The Argument," Vogel, the Adele Kellenberg Seaver Professor of Literary Arts at Brown since 2003, encouraged Moss to enroll in the university's two-year playwriting program. He is a recipient of the Lucille Lortel Playwriting Fellowship for 2006-2007.
Since then, he's added a couple of pages to the play, but has avoided any urge to tweak it.
"It came out and it was done," says Moss. "It came out at once in a burst. I've found that it's good to trust it when that happens."
During his first year at Brown, Moss has let "gotten out all the stuff I've had bottled up in me," he says. That amounts to five plays and a screenplay over the last nine months. "The class has been a chance to download all these ideas," he says, "to finally let them out.
Recent and upcoming productions of his work include "Play Viewed From A Distance at The Empty Space Theater" in Seattle; "The Accident" at Theatre Limina's Double Vision Festival in Minneapolis; and "No One Remembers When," as part of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. Solo performances include "1000 Proms" at Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge MA and "Let's pretend" at P.A.'s Lounge in Boston. "The Argument" will be staged later this year at The Hangar Theater in Ithaca, N.Y., Moss and Haley have been working together for 20 years - acting in each other's productions, directing each other. This will be the first time Haley has directed one of Moss' plays.
"It was inevitable," says Moss. "It's like we were working toward this - that I write and he directs. He's got brilliant instincts. He knows how to make theater. He lives in theater." The play, he says, was "written with a gesture of gratitude town him.
It may be the first time Haley, known for his yearly productions of Beckett at the Firehouse, has directed one of Moss's plays, but won't be the last. He has already signed on to produce "House of Gold." fantasy based on the Jon Benet Ramsey case. ("It's wild, outrageous, poignant, funny and heartbreaking," he says.) "House of Gold" debuted last February in the Brown's New Play Festival.
The current production includes leads twins Amanda and Rachel Coffin, college students at Tufts University and Emerson College, respectively. Other cast members include Kevin Peterson, Edward Speck, Dylan Fuller, Erin Foley, Damon Jesperson, Jeff Larson, and Zoe Foster.
Due to content, this play contains adult themes, explicit language and imagery that some may find unsettling. It is not recommended for younger audiences.
The Firehouse Center will present the premiere performance of a new play written by playwright Gregory Moss, a former Newburyport resident. "The Argument" will be performed Friday-Saturday, June 15-16, 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 17, 3 p.m.
Along with director Stephen Haley, the cast includes leads sisters Amanda and Rachel Coffin, college students at Tufts and Emerson and residents of Manchester, N.H. Due to content, the play is not recommended for younger audiences. The play contains adult themes, explicit language and imagery that some may find unsettling.
To order tickets, call the Firehouse Box Office at 978-462-7336 or visit firehouse.org.