Review Fix chats with the team for “Unaffordably Unhealthy” Anthony J. Piccione and Max Berry, who let us know why the production is an important one today.
About the Production:
Unaffordably Unhealthy is an exploration of how to stay alive in America. Through the eyes of twelve different people with different backgrounds and ailments across the United States, the common theme – how hard it is to obtain and afford proper health insurance and the obstacles they encounter to treat their varied injuries and illnesses – is addressed.
Performances are scheduled for February 25 & 26; March 3 & 4 at 7pm; and February 29 and March 7 at 3pm. Tickets cost $20, and can be purchased by visiting www.thetanknyc.org. A portion of proceeds will be donated to Healthcare-NOW!, an organization dedicated to fighting for a national Medicare for All program that will ensure universal health care for every single American citizen.
The production will be directed by Nathan Cusson, who recently received critical praise for his performance in Piccione’s full-length drama A Therapy Session with Myself, currently running at the Kraine Theater. Casting announcements will be made in the coming weeks.
About Anthony J. Piccione:
Mr. Piccione’s full-length drama A Therapy Session with Myself premiered last year in January 2019 at the Hudson Guild Theatre before transferring in May to the Kraine Theater for an extended year-long run. Additionally, his eclectic canon of one-acts has previously been presented in NYC at the NYWinterfest, Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Midtown International Theatre Festival, and Manhattan Repertory Theatre, as well as at regional venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theatre, the Windsor Art Center, and Windham Theatre Guild, and his work as a playwright has been published at Smith Scripts, Heuer Publishing & Off the Wall Plays. His short drama What I Left Behind was named the NYWinterfest’s Best Short Play of 2018, and he was also nominated for Planet Connections Theatre Festivity’s Outstanding Playwright award for his avant-garde one-act 4 $tages. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016 and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America. For more information, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com.
Review Fix: What was your inspiration behind Unaffordably Unhealthy?
Anthony: For the better part of the past few years, the so-called
“health care” industry in America was an issue that I’d been wanting
to explore as a playwright. It’s an issue that plays an important role in everyone’s
life, and despite that fact, as well as the fact that America does not have a
real universal healthcare program, it strangely seems to be overlooked in the
theatre world, even as other political issues have gained more awareness over
the course of the Trump administration.
Just last year, I myself got a small taste of how hard this issue can make someone’s life. When I turned 26 and got dropped from my parents health insurance, there was a brief period where a stupid Medicaid glitch nearly prevented me from getting access to my anxiety medication on-time for a refill. While I was writing this play, I learned more about stories and situations that were far worse than that, which were experienced by others.
Especially in light of the upcoming election, where healthcare is shaping to be a prominent issue, I thought it was important for me to use whatever platform I have to shine a light on the scandals and tragedies that go on each and every day, as a result of the crimes of the insurance companies, and I hope that’s exactly what Unaffordably Unhealthy will succeed at doing, when it premieres at The Tank toward the end of February.
Review Fix How was your creative process different when writing this play, when
compared to past plays?
Anthony: While I had the idea for it since around 2017 or 2018, it took me until around early-2019 for me to really figure out how I wanted to write it. I initially wanted it to be a documentary theatre piece in the vein of The Laramie Project, but as I did my research, and saw there already were plenty of stories out there about people suffering as a result of the industry, I instead decided to adapt some of the ones I found into dramatic monologues, rather than go through the process of tracking down people who’d like to be interviewed.
It’s similar to A Therapy Session with Myself, in that while it’s not autobiographical, I tried to stay as true to the stories as possible, even as I kept some details such as the victims names as vague as possible, since many of these stories – which include people suffering from cancer, diabetes, and clinical depression, among other conditions – could easily be relatable. There were some other good ones in the articles I read that ultimately didn’t make it in, because then there might have been too much for a one-act play like this. But the original source material which inspired the stories is out there, and at the very least, will be included in our digital show program, for reference.
Review Fix: What have you learned while writing it? What do you hope to have
learned once the production process is done?
Anthony: I always knew it was fucked up that you have to pay money just to see a doctor in America. Yet the more I read, while doing my research and writing the script, the more sad and real it felt to me. These are human lives that are been degraded, and in some cases, coming to an end, as a result of a small handful of greedy people who want to turn a profit, not to mention politicians in both parties that are protecting them. It’s really eye-opening, the more you look into it.
As far as the production is concerned, it’s still early, but I’m really looking forward to people coming to see it. I’ve been working closely with the show’s director Nathan Cusson, whom I first met in college but really got to know better while he was an actor in A Therapy Session with Myself, in terms of making sure this production is a success, and that the people who see it will be inspired to do more to speak out themselves on this issue, and also to do something about it with their votes, because even though the term “Medicare for All” is never explicitly stated in the play, I’d like to think it’s obvious that that’s the solution, to anyone who sees it.
Review Fix: A Therapy Session with Myself has been running at the Kraine Theater since May of last year. What have you learned about yourself during that production process?
Anthony: I’m actually planning to write an essay on that, which I intend to publish closer to our closing date, so I’ll save my most detailed thoughts on that.
For now, though, I’ll just say that it’s been both the most rewarding and exhausting experience of my life so far. As a producer, I’ll admit it’s been exhausting having to prepare for each monthly performance, and making sure everything is ready each month for the dozens of people who come to see. Yet as a writer, it’s been gratifying to see it up on stage for so long, and to have heard about the reactions to it. There were a few older, more conservative theatergoers who didn’t seem to “get it”, so to speak, but most of the reactions I’ve gotten have been positive, and I felt particularly vindicated by the stories of young people – particularly those who also have autism or a mental illness – who said it resonated with them. I also got to meet some pretty incredible artists along the way, too, while working on it, so of course, that made it worth it, too.
Max Berry: (About acting in “Therapy Session”) I had known Anthony for about a year through On Stage Blog and Facebook but we had never met in person. I had even seen Therapy Session before I was in it. The first time we met in person was actually when I went to a reading for a different play at his apartment and, unknown to me, the director of Therapy Session was there. I guess I did okay at the reading because a few days later she reached out and asked me if I would be interested in joining Therapy Session.
Review Fix: After A Therapy Session with Myself closes in a few months, do you have any further goals for the play’s future?
Anthony: Yes! I can confirm that I have been in the process of adapting the
play into a screenplay. From a production standpoint, I’ll probably take some
time before revisiting this story, simply because of how much time I’ve put
into producing the theatrical premiere. But I definitely would like to see it filmed
one day, whether it’s through a company, or whether I end up producing it again
myself, as I’m certainly not shy about that sort of thing. Until then, the play is published at Smith Scripts (www.smithscripts.co.uk), and available to purchase now for anyone who wants to either read or present it.
Max Berry: This is such a great show that tackles so many important issues so I hope that it can reach as many people as possible. I also hope to continue working with the incredible artists that I have met through this process.
Review Fix: And besides that, what are your goals for the future?
Anthony: I’m constantly writing new plays, and I’m optimistic that this new decade will see the premiere of many of them. In addition to that, though, I’d also like to commit to writing more scripts for film and TV, and seeing those fully produced. I was recently commissioned to write a short script for Sesame Workshop, and that’s been really inspiring me to write more for that type of medium.
And maybe I’ll write a novel, too, if I have time!
Review Fix: So…what’s next?
Anthony: Immediately after A Therapy Session with Myself closes in May, I plan to take a nice vacation to London, and enjoy a taste of the fringe theatre scene there! I’m also planning to go to Canada sometime this summer, and see a show at the Shaw Theatre Festival!
Careerwise, though, I am planning to revive my series of short plays about mental health entitled Talking It Out, whichvoriginated last year as an event of staged readings at the Dramatists Guild Foundation, and now, I’m hoping to take the event to a new venue for an ongoing series of fully realized productions. And then, there’s my next full-length drama that I’m working on, which is set in the distant future and deals with themes of religious extremism and right-wing populism.
To learn more about all these projects, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com.
Max Berry: I’m graduating college this May! So that has taken a lot of my focus as of late. However, I have spent the last year writing nonstop and will hopefully be able to get to work producing some of them post-graduation. Who knows? I might also find myself on the stage again. Life is funny. I hope so. Acting as much as I have recently has been a happy surprise so maybe more surprises are coming.