From law to love, litigator tackles Mideast love affair
By Davida Singer
As a litigation lawyer by day and playwright by night, Roger Kirbys path is anything but usual. The 57 year-old had primarily done writing related to law until about four years ago, when his interest in the ideas of James Boswell began taking him in another direction.
I was struck by the tensions between the desire to do the right thing and the impulse to act impulsively, says Kirby. My first play, Natural Inclinations came from that, and it was eventually done in London, where I had some contacts. As I got more into writing, I began to develop my own methodology, and Ive been able to complete a piece every year.
Medea in Jerusalem, a transformation of the Greek work by Euripedes, is Kirbys 4th play, and it marks his New York debut, presented by 71AC Productions and opening next week at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
Does law inform what he writes?
The principal benefit is that you dont wait for inspiration, you just sit down and get it done, Kirby explains. But law writing is expository. In playwriting, you strip things away, so law writing has actually been a hindrance. My plays each deal with something either of personal concern to me, or something regarded as social in nature. My previous one, Burleigh Grimes was about the coarseness of American culture-from rock n roll to the present, and this one is about passion and alienation as it applies to the Middle East. My next one addresses the Christian right.
According to the author, Euripedes Medea seemed a fascinating subject when it occurred to him the application of that play connected to the situation in the Middle East, particularly the notions of revenge and failure to compromise.
This is not an adaptation, he says, but its inspired by Euripedes. Its modern but not contrived, and has modern characters with their own psychology. My Medea is Palestinian (a Muslim) involved with Jason (a Jew) in Jerusalem. At first, their relationship is representative of hope in that part of the world. But the story then shows the degradation of that relationship, how difficult it is for the two communities to integrate, and how difficult it is for their families. Its a drama, but with quite a bit of dark humor in it.
The play is directed by Steven Little, a young Scotsman affiliated with the National Theatre in London, who also directed Kirbys first play, and there is an original score by Jane Watkins.
As part of my research, I pulled out hundreds of news stories about the Middle East, Kirby notes, so weve woven radio broadcasts throughout the piece, and theres even the voice of God playing toward the end. The set is modern, simple and sleek, but it complies with Greek theater as well. Theres a doorway from the outside world to the world of the play, and our allusion to Medea being something of a sorcerer is that ours might use a mouse and computer to stir things up. Its nice if you know Euripedes work, but if you know nothing about Medea, you will be at least as comfortable with this play.
The essence of Medea in Jerusalem and its relevance revolve around the idea of what Kirby calls the cycle of bigotry, alienation, passionate feelings and destruction, and he hopes people will leave his play with suggestions on how that cycle might be broken.
It has to do with what might be regarded as difficult personal decisions, he says. Otherwise, the cycle is reinforced. The solution is not in action/reaction/action/revenge, etc., but in learning how to slow down and do something very different.