“Lysistrata Rape Play” – An Interview With Playwright Mariah MacCarthy

mariah_instaMariah MacCarthy is no stranger to women and sex. The founder of Caps Lock Theater, who is also a playwright and director, is mounting her original work Lysistrata Rape Play in a fully-staged workshop at the Players Theatre. The production runs April 11-13 and tickets can be purchased at OvationTix.

In Lysistrata Rape Play, which MacCarthy describes as a dark comedy, a female president who calls herself the Matriarch encourages women to stop having sex with men in order to get them to stop raping. Hijinks, castration and patriotic dildos result.

MacCarthy, an outspoken feminist, shared her thoughts on the inspiration behind the play, the idea of rape culture and how to stage some potentially uncomfortable subjects and scenes onstage.

Why did you decide to write this play? What was your inspiration?

It kind of started with Lysistrata Jones, which, for the record, I did not see. But I heard the premise and it made me want to do something with Lysistrata. What would I use the withholding of sex to stop, if I could? Then I went on a retreat run by Diana Oh (who incidentally plays the Matriarch in Lysistrata Rape Play), Filling the Well, and one of the things we did on this retreat was go to a church service, even though most of us were not religious. The church service was, honestly, quite boring, but I started thinking about services and pulpits and Lysistrata, and then I wrote the first 20 pages on the retreat, which at first was its own play. Then after a few readings of the 20-minute version I expanded it later, which I’ll get to in a second.

When did you originally write this play?

The 20-minute version, Fall 2011. The full-length has only been in process since December 2012.

What is different about this production than your previous ones?

This is a workshop, not a full production. Everything is on its feet and off-book, but the set is made of rehearsal blocks and everyone is visible onstage the whole time. I usually don’t have this luxury before actually putting the thing up with all the bells and whistles. And honestly, this step isn’t always necessary. Sometimes you can jump straight from reading to production and be fine. But Lysistrata Rape Play is a big, big play. There are ten actors, and it’s a futuristic dystopia, and I’m wrestling with some ginormous ideas, and trying to make a play with the word “rape” in the title funny, but poignant. And it’s HARD. It’s really, really valuable right now to see the thing on its feet, to get a feel for the timing of it, because I know I probably still have a lot of work to do.

How did your collaboration with Players Theatre and this production come about?

Christian Amato at The Theatre Project, the theater company in residence at The Players Theatre, invited me to submit to their Cold Reads series. I didn’t have anything in the appropriate stage of growth for Cold Reads at the time, but I decided, well, I’ve been thinking of expanding Lysistrata Rape Play so I’ll just give it a shot and if nothing else, it’ll be a deadline to get my butt in gear. So in less than a week, it went from twenty pages to fifty-something, and I sent it off with the caveat that this was a very rough first draft. It got in (yay!) and so before this workshop there was a reading, also at The Players Theatre. Then it moved on to this next step, the Microfest, which is a workshop presentation of the play. I’ve done tons of rewrites. The play has grown a LOT since the reading. Some of my favorite scenes are brand-new.

How do you approach staging a subject/storyline like this?

With as much of an ear for humor and rhythm as possible, which is why I brought in Matt Dickson to direct it. We’ve collaborated a couple of other times and he just GETS it. He completely gets my sense of humor–sometimes better than I do. I thought that was the most important thing in this play. I thought there was no such thing as being too funny. I think the funnier it is, the sadder it will be.

Please share your thoughts on plays about sex and the staging of sexuality onstage.

I write about sex a LOT, but I rarely write actual acts of copulation onstage. I think that when you write about sex, you write about power and insecurity and the conflict is inherent. Much of that comes through in the pursuit of sex, or the lead-up to sex, which is why often I don’t consider staging the actual act of sex to be that important for my own plays.

But when it comes to actually staging sex on stage, honestly, I think that people are often too shy about it. When it’s in the script that the sex happens in front of us, there’s usually a reason for it, but I think maybe there’s an assumption that there’s no possible way to fully stage it and make actors feel comfortable and taken care of. (And I say this feeling very strongly that taking care of your actors is your first priority. I’m very protective of actors.) So a lot of the time, when I see sex onstage–ACTUAL sex, not just sexy content–it seems like the director just wants to get the moment over with as quickly as possible, or obscure it as much as possible, and often it doesn’t seem like that really serves the play. I’m not saying I need an ass in my face and junk flopping around in full light for ten minutes. But I do think that really going for it and staging it more fully would tell the story better, nine times out of ten. I’m all about storytelling, not gratuitous nudity. Nudity and sexuality should not be gratuitous.

And I’m about to contradict myself, because there’s a masturbation scene in Lysistrata Rape Play which is intended to be sad and sweet, so the guy isn’t visible while he’s masturbating because seeing a guy jerk off is automatically going to make people laugh even if it’s not intended to be funny. That’s not the case with a woman masturbating, though. Isn’t that interesting?

Please share some of your thoughts on the idea of “rape culture” in our world, and feel FREE to share your thoughts/rant about the dialogue in Congress during election season.

I beat my drum about this subject on Facebook pretty much daily. Rape culture is real, it’s pervasive, and it affects women every single day (whether they’ve ever been raped or not). After the election, Alec Baldwin said it best: “You know your party is in trouble when people ask did the rape guy win, and you have to ask, ‘which one?'” That said, it’s definitely not just conservatives who contribute to rape culture (and not all conservatives do). It’s “enlightened,” “progressive,” “good guys” who consider themselves feminists, too–which is part of what Lysistrata Rape Play deals with.

Why do you think there is such a fear of women taking ownership of their sexuality?

Um, because then straight men think they will be all alone forever? I have no idea, honestly.

The word “rape” can be alienating; how do you think having it in your title affects your audience?

I think it acts as a trigger warning. I don’t want anyone to see this play without knowing that it contains sometimes difficult-to-watch content. I want people to take care of themselves. That said, I also made sure there’s something in the blurb that specifies that this is a comedy. An EXTREMELY dark comedy, but a comedy nonetheless. I come at this play as a sexual assault survivor, and sometimes I need to laugh through my pain. This play is an extension of that.

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