Review Fix chats with “All Mixed Up” playwright John J. Enright who discusses the production and what inspired it.
About the Production:
This modern comedy explores the challenge of maintaining love and trust in an era of nontraditional relationships. Beth and Carrie, an interracial couple on the brink of parenthood, had agreed to have a mixed-race baby – i.e. using a white sperm donor. But days before the very pregnant Beth is due, she reveals she secretly found a black donor. When their fight is interrupted by the donor himself, hi-jinks ensue. The situation is all mixed up! (Even if the baby isn’t.)
FRIDAY 7/14, 5:30PM; SATURDAY 7/15, 4:30PM; SUNDAY 7/16, 8PM
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
John J. Enright: I wish I had a better grip on my own creative process, because I suspect it would be a lot less frustrating if I understood it better. Generally, I thrash about for an opening conflict and a setting. For this play, I had the idea of doing a play in a hotel room. And I started trying to write something along those lines. Then I realized that it was going to be hard to justify enough entrances and exits to a hotel room – and it was going to get even more claustrophobic than the usual single-set play. So I started thinking about how to move the whole story to the lobby. As to the story itself, it came from a disturbing legal case in Chicago, a case where a white female couple in Ohio had obtained what they were told was sperm from a white male donor. But by some accident it was sperm from an African American donor. Anyway, they had the baby, and then they sued the Chicago clinic for “wrongful birth” because it was going to be hard to raise a mixed race child in their town in Ohio. I wasn’t so drawn to the legal battle, but I felt myself drawn to the human side of the question – the thing about people wanting a child that resembles themselves – especially in the face of our racial divisions. And I wanted to explore that issue at a very personal level, which is how I ended up with a mixed race couple who are having a fight about the sperm donation one of them arranged without telling the other.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Enright: When people comment on my plays as being different, they usual focus on the wordplay and the exotic plotting. The plotting comes from daydreaming, I think, especially when apparently incongruous storylines converge upon one another. That’s the “wouldn’t such a combination be interesting?” side of my brain. But the wordplay comes from trying to have each character listen carefully before replying, so that each line, ideally, springs succinctly off the one before it. I think there’s a sort of dizzying effect from “having a lot going on” in terms of snappy talk combined with a reasonably complicated story. It resolves neatly enough, and the dizziness dissipates, but as the play ends you feel a little like you just stepped off a roller coaster ride for your brain.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Enright: That’s a good question. This was a hard play, emotionally, for me to write, I think because the racial divide in this country is still such an aching mess, especially for the people from both sides who try to reach across. I was drawn to the topic with a kind of terrified fascination. What I learned, what sort of surprised me oddly enough, was that I didn’t think it was important to do much to resolve the more abstract disagreements that arose in the play. I have opinions, everybody has opinions, but I was surprised that I felt no need to favor mine, that what was more important to me was to make a plea for maintaining personal relationships.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Enright: I’m incredibly proud to have All Mixed Up included in the Fresh Fruit Festival. I am very happy to be bringing the play from Chicago to New York. Chicago is a 9 on the 10-point urban energy scale, but somehow New York is always running at 11. I lived in New York for many years, and it somehow it feels like coming home to bring this play here. Also, I’m a guy who likes to write plays about women, and I’m pleased that my portrayals of female relationships have resonated with many women.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Enright: I don’t know. When we finished our Chicago run, I remember feeling that I wanted to bring it to more people, and I thought about bringing it here, to New York, where I have a lot of friends, so I could share it with them. We have a very talented director and cast for this festival, and I would love to extend it in some way if that would be possible.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Enright: Structurally, this is a romantic comedy, and I think the audience will enjoy the fact that love can triumph over the many things that conspire to keep people apart – deep misunderstandings, felt betrayals, racial divides – all those things can be knocked down flat by the power of love between two people who elect to trust each other.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Enright: I have been working on a set of short plays about cats in outer space. These are intelligent cats, in a future where humans have gone extinct, and the plays are extremely silly, and the cats are high on catnip half the time. It all started with Kitties in Space, which I wrote for the Doing Drugs And Dying In Space festival, in Chicago, where it got a lot of laughs. Then I wrote a sequel and a prequel. The prequel, Space Cat Graduation, just played at the Heartland Ten Minute Play Festival in Normal, Illinois, and was well-received there. So I’m trying to figure out if I can build these short plays into an overarching narrative that would work as a full-length comedy.