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Artfully curated by Culturadar

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February 26, 2015

Christina Masciotti's SOCIAL SECURITY at The Bushwick Starr

Set in the struggling city of Reading, Pennsylvania, Christina Masciotti’s new play Social Security follows June, a deaf and stranded former pretzel factory worker, as she strives for human companionship. Directed by Big Dance Theater’s Paul Lazar, the production runs through March 14 at The Bushwick Starr. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg talked to Masciotti about growing up in Reading; working with Lazar and actors Elizabeth Dement and Cynthia Hopkins, and the woman who inspired Masciotti to write this play.

Culturadar: What led you to write this play?

Christina Masciotti: It was inspired by a neighbor of my mom’s, June, whom I met when her husband died. She had to get some things at the bank, pick up groceries, and asked us to take her. I was just struck by how vulnerable she was and how trusting she was at the same time. She needed a lot of help and didn’t have any resources or any way to get it. My mom would take her for groceries every week, and I would get to know her a little bit that way. I found her really inspiring in terms of what she was dealing with.

CR: When was this?

CM: I started writing this in 2011.

CR: How much of the play is drawn from your own experience?

CM: What actually happens in the play didn’t necessarily happen, but the characters are all drawn from real people. One of the characters is based on my mom, and another character was in June’s life.

CR: You set your plays in Reading, PA, where you grew up. What is your relationship to Reading?

CM: It’s such fertile ground. It’s not a big city and it’s not a small town, it has elements of both. It has all the crime of a big city but none of the art. One thing that is unique to it is the lack of sameness within a neighborhood. It’s not like there’s a good side of town and a bad side of town; within a block it’s all mixed. You walk a few steps, and it’s a totally different environment. You’re on your toes all the time. It’s stimulating. Growing up, my sister and I were the little kids on the block, but there weren’t many other families around. There was a hair salon for the elderly, a medical practice, a crack den, a Roto-Rooter plumber, a corner store, the Medicine Shoppe. When the other side of the moon is a doorbell away, it can kind of jolt you into a new grasp of reality. So Reading is just an anchor [for my plays]. I know what it is so well. I like what it is so much.

CR: You always use language in interesting ways. How do you use language in this play?

CM: June has a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect and also a seventh grade education, so there are a lot of idiosyncrasies that come with that. I spent a lot of time with her and took great care to make sure all her lines have her imprint. That’s important to me, giving a sense of who people are through what they say. When we speak, who we are does come across, so it’s important to get that into each line to really do justice to these people. Also, June is deaf. The glitches in communication where you just try to get something across are augmented when someone’s just reading lips or notes.

CR: How did the performers Cynthia Hopkins and Elizabeth Dement become involved?

CM: Paul Lazar, the director, has worked with Cynthia for close to 20 years on different projects, so he suggested her and Elizabeth Dement whom he’s also worked with quite extensively. They are both amazing performers. Of course, Cynthia is also a vocalist, and she can do astonishing things with her voice–whether singing or speaking. Elizabeth is playing an 80-year-old woman and she’s young, so it’s not a conventional choice. As a dancer, she has an incredible grasp of precise, evocative movement. In our show, there are intricate movements of just walking around and lying down and reading notes. They’re not naturalistic movements, they’re formalized movements that lift the scenes out of the very real, gritty world that they are based in.

CR: Does Elizabeth Dement do any dancing?

CM: It’s not exactly dance. It depends how you define dance. Honestly, I’m fairly ignorant about dance but I think this could qualify as verging on a hybrid form of something. It’s very rhythmic. I’ve worked on this play for years, directing it myself early on, trying to figure it out, and with a more naturalistic bent it was stunning how it would get so boring so quickly. The more the actor would act, the less you could hear and understand what they were saying. Somehow, seeing [Dement] move in this way that nobody would normally move when speaking, you have the sense that anything can happen in this world, and it allows the language to be heard.

CR: What else does Paul Lazar bring to the play?

CM: So much. He figured out how to bring the play to life. He just has one truly inspired, great idea after another, and that, in turn, inspires everyone around him. He’s also a gifted actor, so he knows what actors need, and he slices right through text when it comes to interpreting what’s going on, what’s motivating a line, how it fits into a larger arc. Also, sometimes in the rehearsal room the playwright is muzzled, but with Paul I can say anything and the actors and designers can say anything at any time. A lot of ideas get thrown around. So Paul really does set a tone that allows all of us to contribute our best work. When you’re creating something, being relaxed can be really helpful. Unfortunately, it's so rare. Rehearsal rooms can be so tense, especially leading up to opening night. This is the first time it’s been really relaxed and fun while also being productive.

Click here to learn more and to get tickets to Social Security.

Photography by Maria Baranova.

Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals, plays, and prose. Her musicals include Lightning Man (Ars Nova ANT Fest), Sophia Venetia Voyager, and Soon Never, and her work has been featured in concerts at Lincoln Center, The York Theatre Company, the Duplex Cabaret Theater, the TriArts Sharon Playhouse, the Goodspeed Opera House, and The Laurie Beechman Theatre. She earned her MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program after graduating from Barnard College. She also blogs about theater for The Huffington Post.

Posted at 10:07 AM

< Prospect Theater Company presents LONG STORY SHORT | Main | Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great at Theatre for a New Audience >