If you’ve been following Artpunk Club’s weekly theatre picks, you know it’s been a banner year for dystopian futures on Portland stages. We’ve seen lust-besotted crime gangs (Leonard Cohen Is Dead), scavengers dancing across an arid wasteland (To Fly Again), a tea party at the end of the world (Escaped Alone)… but very little romance. Enter Alan Bowne’s Beirut, a love story set in a near-future which bears startling similarities to our present.
There’s nothing like a passion project to spark interest here at Artpunk Club HQ, so we reached out to Beirut’s producer and star Mamie Colombero with some questions about the show, sci fi, and the Portland theatre scene.
You’re the lead and co-producer of Beirut. What was it about the play that resonated with you?
When I read this script for the first time three years ago, two major things stood out to me. The first thing was how a script written in response to such a specific and heartbreaking time in our history could feel so intensely relevant to me in the Fall of 2016. Newly finding my footing under Trump’s administration, this script knocked the wind out of me. These intensely flawed, beautiful, charismatic characters somehow felt equally like relics of an old world and like friends I’d known all my life.
The second thing that stood out was how much I love Italian New Yorkers. Non ci piove!
For me, Bowne’s BEIRUT is a sacred place where the stakes are incredibly high, but the choice to love and to connect is always easy.
Despite its popularity in film and TV, science fiction seems comparatively rare onstage. Are there unique challenges to staging this show, and if so, what are they?
In the six months after I first read Bowne’s BEIRUT, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 rose by 9,500 percent. Within the year, the television series adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale had swept every awards ceremony in Hollywood and received worldwide acclaim.
Curious about our seemingly universal desire to consume dystopian content, I turned to the internet Gods. And as happens often in my life, a writer encapsulated what I was experiencing with Bowne’s BEIRUT:
“Part of the appeal of [dystopian literature], of course, is a morbid strain of escapism: Dystopian fiction enables readers to taste a darker timeline, albeit one that a protagonist invariably triumphs over…A dystopian worldview, whether derived from fiction or real-world events, can have therapeutic value—no matter which side of the aisle your politics belong on.” — Charley Locke, WIRED
This was what BEIRUT did for me. It offered me a platform to experience and feel the kind of injustice, anger, fear, and betrayal that had been bubbling beneath the surface while I orbited around the privileged, progressive bubble that was (and still is) my life.
Correspondingly, over the next two years, the hub of the theater world (NYC) revived Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Finn & Lapine’s musical Falsettos, and Steven Dietz’s Lonely Planet. American political rhetoric under the Trump administration has been so notoriously saturated with hate speech and fear-mongering, it is not surprising that the theatre Illuminati would work to remind patrons of the atrocities and terror of the early 1980s. While medical science has forever changed the landscape of HIV and AIDS, our sordid tribal histories tend to repeat themselves, and I applaud any artistic endeavor that aims to halt us on the trail to revisit a time of fear-inspired stigmatization and ignorance.
While BEIRUT was written by Bowne in response to the AIDS Crisis, our BEIRUT is a world that we all know – a world of marginalization, fear, anarchy and struggle for our right to find and choose love.
Beirut has a promotional trailer, which seems both sensible and highly unusual. How did you arrive at the concept of a trailer to promote the show?
My friend Nick Brown at Quick Hit Record Media was one of the first calls I made when we finally got down to actually executing these trailers. I had worked with Nick on a few smaller projects and was so incredibly impressed with his work. I had a rough idea that I wanted to show “a day in the life” of both of the lead characters, but the rest was all Nick and his incredible team (Gaffer/Lighting by Brent Lucas, Set Dressing by Ryan Colman, Photos and assistance by Alex Fattal). This was a 12-hour shoot in a very small basement and as you can see, these guys absolutely transformed the space. I was there while we shot it, and I’m still in awe of the production quality and artistic excellence these guys brought to the project.
I basically wanted to give audiences an idea of the dystopian and dark world in which Bowne’s BEIRUT lives. And Nick and the team more than made that a reality for us!
A genie offers you three wishes to be used on the Portland Theatre scene. What would you ask for?
The first thing that I would wish for would be more collaboration in creating the “world” of the play. When I set out to produce BEIRUT, I yearned to bring designers and artists on board that were experts in their fields. Part of this stemmed from the fact that I had never produced before, and I wanted to feel safe in creating this delicate piece of theater, but part of it had to do with the fact that many of my designer friends have expressed that they are rarely implored to help create the world of a show, but are rather asked to execute design plans that have already been decided upon. I know so many incredible theater artists and I want to see more theater that honors their creations!
The second wish that I would make is a return to relationship/character-driven stories on stage. In a political climate where there is so much to be outraged about and so much to speak out against, it’s no wonder that so much material is intended to shine a light on the transgressions of our leaders and our society. And while I applaud and champion that in this art form, I also know that I fell in love with theater for its capacity to serve as an empath – the magic of relating to characters and processing our own emotions through the work on stage can sometimes be overshadowed by a heavy-handed and politically relevant mission by playwrights and theater-makers. I hope that there is more of a marriage between these two gifts of theater in the years to come.
And lastly, I would wish for more affordable spaces to rehearse and perform in – Portland real estate makes this tricky!
Beirut has closed, but you can keep up with Mamie and her current work at mamiecolombero.net!