An audience walks into a bar. No, that’s not the set up to a joke; it’s a description of the immersive environment in which She Calls Me Firefly, a new play by Teresa Lotz, will be performed. A joint producing venture between VH Theatrical Development Foundation and New Perspectives Theatre Company, She Calls Me Firefly will run from April 15th– May 3rd at New Perspectives Studio, an intimate space that has been converted into a small town bar.
Even in rehearsal, on a cold, rainy morning, the atmosphere of the playing space is electrifying. Lighted signs announce drink specials and indicate that the bar is open. Above the stage, a University of Kentucky pennant hints at the locale. Beer ads and a darts board hang on the wall behind the small, round tables that are surrounded by stools and chairs.
The bar is called Freddie’s Place and playwright Teresa thinks of it as otherworldly. “This place is where Ken [the play’s protagonist] is going to face his demons for the first time,” she said. “I’ve recently come to think of this play as Ken walking into a wrestling ring and summoning the figures he needs to fight. And he knows that one of those two entities needs to win.“
She Calls Me Firefly is not an easy play to describe. It’s a memory piece told by an unreliable protagonist who admits to having a flawed memory. It’s a psychological examination of PTSD and coming to terms with a traumatic event from childhood. It’s a love story between two men, both recovering addicts.
In its most literal reality, the play is a conversation between Ken and Freddie, the bartender and owner of Freddie’s place. But Ken goes in and out of reality, summoning up memories of his mother and his boyfriend. At times, he interacts with these memories with more ease than he is able to possess in the present. But as the play goes on, it is clear these memories are haunting- perhaps even controlling-Ken to an extent that is both fascinating and troubling to watch.
“Because I’m writing about a memory, memory was an important thing that needed to be explored structurally as well” explained Teresa. Although the show does not tell a linear story, “each flashback has an arc of it’s own. The actors and [director] Ludovica Villar-Hauser think of every scene as a play in itself.”
The actors have eagerly embraced the unusual story structure. Along with Ludovica they explored the staging of the scenes with deliberation and care, spending up to half an hour on the intent behind a brief exchange or a transition. Since characters go in and out of time, space, and sobriety, sometimes in the course of a single beat, “how you get into the scene physically is more of a challenge,” said Matthew J. Harris, who plays Ken’s boyfriend Levi. Autumn Kioti, who plays Ken’s mother Veronica agreed. On a very technical level, she added, the rehearsal process has been about “getting in and out and why you get in and out” of each moment.
Autumn called the rehearsal period “a luxurious process” not only because they were able to spend a lot of time discussing show themes and character backstory but also due to the presence of the playwright in the room with them. “Teresa is really good about watching and seeing what’s happening and whether or not it works for actors and saying I need to change it to make it work,” said Autumn, who has been with the play throughout its development over the course of the past two years.
She Calls Me Firefly’s developmental journey has been no more linear than the structure of the play itself. “I did not start at the beginning of the play,” explained Teresa of her writing process. “I started from an emotional place and I filled in the details later.” These details included painstaking amounts of research on rape, addiction, PTSD, and childhood trauma in order to honestly portray childhood sexual abuse and its emotional and psychological ramifications. Teresa feels that Ken’s story of “childhood sexual trauma, mental illness, and substance abuse represents a largely unacknowledged voice in today’s discourse on rape and sexual assault” and is therefore a story that needs to be told.
The actors also believe this is an important story to tell, and one that is relatable despite the extreme hardship that the character Ken endures. “The kind of theater I like to see is when people are really trying to dig at something,” said Matthew who predicts that She Calls Me Firefly to be a stimulating theatrical experience for the audience. “Every character in this play has such a clear battle. Everyone in life does as well.”
She Calls Me Firefly
By Teresa Lotz; directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser; sets and costumes designed by Meganne George; lighting by Deborah Constantine; sound by Janie Bullard; production stage manager, Ashley Holmes. Presented by VH Theatrical Development Foundation and New Perspectives Theatre Company; producer Melody Brooks, assistant producer Colie McClellan. At New Perspectives Studio at 458 West 37th Street, http://shecallsmefirefly.com. Performances from April 15 through May 3.
WITH: Matthew J. Harris (Levi), Sean Hudock (Ken), Autumn Kioti (Veronica) and Landon G. Woodhouse (Freddie).