Review Fix chats with playwright Anghus Houvouras, who discusses his production, “A Civilized World.” Detailing its origin and goals, Houvouras lets us know why its pull np punches style will resonate with many.
About the Production:
An opioid addict is sentenced to death in the near future where being an unproductive member of society is a capital offense. The play centers on the condemned, Eleanor Reed, and her final conversation with Andrew Goodman, a lifelong government shill tasked with explaining the value of her sacrifice.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project
Anghus Houvouras: I hit a point in my life where I became frustrated with how comfortable society is with the suffering of others. Every day people die horribly, suffer needless, starve, suffer from undiagnosed mental illness or are bombed into oblivion by drones. And those thoughts barely register. At some point our general disregard for our fellow human beings became smothering. We humans don’t really value life all that much, outside of our own friends and family. Life has so little value in the modern world. I started thinking could society get to a point one day where the disenfranchised are sentenced to death after being deemed ‘unproductive’. That simply by not being a productive member of society, the Government could end your existence. At first, it felt like a far-off concept, something that feels like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. But then it started to feel like something that could become a reality. We as a society sentence people to death all the time. The opioid addicts who overdose. The veterans who come back from wars and are all but forgotten. The mentally ill, the poor & the homeless who can’t get help because they can’t afford care. We sign their death sentence by our perpetual inaction.
My epiphany moment was hearing the words “We’re all monsters, some of us just hide it better” and then started to construct a story about two people who represent both the disenfranchised and the civilized society who believe they have no value in this world.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Houvouras: I think there are a few things that make this different. First, in spite of the subject matter, it’s not preachy. I have no interest in setting up a soapbox and screaming my views at people. What I’m interested in is the people who exist in this world and how they exist within the framework. The message of the show only exists for people who want it to. If they actually consider the events unfolding before them and pick a side. I also think it’s different because it’s a piece written by someone who has clearly watched his generation embrace ambivalence as the world gets worse around them. It’s directed by Rachel Deutsch, someone who is from a younger generation that seems far more interesting in declaring “this is bullshit.” I suppose that’s also what makes it feel special. That I get to write something about the failures of the civilized world and watch it brought to life by someone who comes from a generation that seems hell-bent on being part of the solution.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Houvouras: That hope is meaningless when it’s not paired with action. Hope isn’t going to save us, people are. People who look at a corrupt system and say ‘enough.’ People who shake the dust off of their soul and start devoting time and resources to a cause that make a difference. I think I always knew that this world we live in is a lie. That to maintain our sanity we have to become comfortable with the concept that other people suffer and die every day and we can do nothing about it. Before the internet, there was more of a protective veil with our conscience. But in the information age, we see these tragedies unfolding in real time and are still do so little to affect change. It used to make me chuckle. How silly humanity is and how we’re so absorbed with ourselves and our tiny lives that we can’t be bothered with things like injustice or genocide. Through the process, it became a lot less humorous and a lot more unsettling. And i think that’s what i was looking to confront when I wrote it.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Houvouras: I want this production to knock the wind out of people. We’re living in this amazingly divisive time, and i see people saying words like ‘compromise’ or ‘find common ground’. Totalitarianism. Injustice. The plight of the disenfranchised. These aren’t battles that shouldn’t involve concessions or compromise. I want to make people uncomfortable and question the nature of what it means to be a human being in a world populated with billions of other human beings. I want people to question the nature of their institutions and why they put so much faith in them.
For me, I want to keep writing things that feel honest & real. Whether you’re writing a comedy or a drama the one thing that makes it resonate is honesty. I also want to get A Civilized World on as many stages as possibly and start some conversations.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Houvouras: I like to play in different mediums, so i’m working with A Civilized World Director Rachel Deutsch on a film version of the show and continuing to write and looking for organizations like Downtown Urban Arts Festival to partner with to create interesting and challenging theater and film.