A woman travels to the underworld in an attempt to bring back her deceased daughter. That’s the premise behind local playwright Michael Sepesy’s new play, The Alice Seed, premiering at Cleveland Public Theatre Oct. 8. But how does the planting of an idea turn into an actual production? A lot of paper, patience and maybe a little change in direction. “Originally, it was going to be an adaptation of Hamlet that was going to be a political play about toxic waste,” says Sepesy.
CM: How do you begin a project?
Michael Sepesy: I usually start longhand — somehow the ideas are more immediate if they’re coming out of my hand. And they seem less official, like I could easily discard them and write something else. That is, until I feel this thing in me that says, “Thou must go and type it.”
CM: Are there bumps in the road?
MS: Often I have to experience something new in order to get through a play. I write to a certain point and then I get stuck, and then something will happen that is the thing that must happen in order for me to finish that play. Information that I hear, or something comes into my sphere that makes me say, “Ahhhh.”
CM: Your dialogue in The Alice Seed is the way people talk — very straightforward — but your plays don’t seem very literal.
MS: I think very much in terms of the symbolic. If I’m going to have something happen, then I will create action that is highly metaphorical. So people can like the play and go, “All sorts of really crazy stuff was happening in that play,” or they can watch it for metaphors. And then they can see it on the level of magic realism as well.
CM: Did anyone influence the writing of The Alice Seed?
MS: [Local playwright] Mike Geither — he has a completely different style of writing from mine. My plays tend to be somewhat planned out; I sort of know what the ending is before I start writing it down. His process is more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, built more on non sequiturs and non-logical connections. He also encourages you to write to surprise yourself, so I tried to write so that I would not know what was going to come out next. And one unexpected thing happened after another. They’re linearly linked, but things happen that no one would ever expect to see on the stage.
CM: Can you give us an example?
MS: I had the mother digging a hole. The fact that she went down the hole was a surprise to me. Then what? Was it gonna be an Alice in Wonderland kind of experience, or was she going to the underworld? And what underworld? The typical thing — and I don’t like to do the typical thing — would be the Judeo-Christian version of the afterlife. But what if the Egyptians were right? You go and your heart is weighed, and if it’s too heavy because you’re filled with sin, they throw it to some crocodile that eats your soul. Normally in a play you’d have something that sets it up, somebody says something that leads you to believe ... and I thought, No, I’m deciding what my underworld’s like. You either accept it or you don’t. It’s actually the audience’s fault for assuming that it’s one way when we just don’t know what happens after.
CM: What’s The Alice Seed really about?
MS: On the surface, the play is about the ferocity of a mother’s love for her child. On another level, it’s about the acceptance of loss and mortality. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s how I would summarize it.
CM: What should people expect?
MS: If people like suspense, there’s suspense. If they like horror, there are elements of horror. If people like lyrical plays and metaphors, or weird, or humor, or family dramas, or philosophy, or emotional works — there’s something in the play for everyone.
Oct. 8-24, Cleveland Public Theatre, (216) 631-2727, cptonline.org