Friday, March 11, 2011

PlayGround Takes a Roadtrip

On April 6, PlayGround is sojourning south to San Jose Stage Company to see the World Premiere of Lolita Roadtrip by Trevor Allen. Roadtrip was the inaugural recipient of the New Play Production Fund, which gave San Jose Stage Company $15,000 to produce the show.

Excerpt from an interview with Trevor Allen on his new play, Lolita Roadtrip

(Originally posted on December 8, 2010.)
PlayGround: What first gave you the idea for Lolita Roadtrip?
TA: The road that led to the play that became Lolita Roadtrip was a circuitous
one and could probably form the basis of its own play-- but someone else

would have to write it because I'm too busy trying to finish another play.
But here is the bullet-time, high-speed-camera recap version. Several years
ago, I came across an odd piece of information online while I was doing
research for another play that said something like this, "In 1941, Vladimir
Nabokov found and identified this previously unknown subspecies of
Lepidoptera in the Grand Canyon while traveling across country from New York
to California to take a teaching position at Stanford. It is brown in color,
rather than pale blue, his fondness for the blues is of course well known.
The holotype resides in the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate park." I
immediately knew I had to write a play about how Nabokov found this
creature! Other than a ten page play entitled, "Nabokov's Moth," which
thankfully never saw the light of day, nothing came of it. I just filed the
idea away in my "ideas" pile, which takes up a ridiculous amount of memory
on my ageing laptop. Fast forward a few years to when I was pitching the
required three play ideas to Playground for a possible commission. I think
I'd already pitched two of the ideas when I received my first commission for
Tenders in the Fog, and I was desperately casting about for a third one and
came across my proposal for a Sloan Foundation grant, which for reasons I
won't go into, I had not submitted. So this third idea stuck and of course
it was the one that PlayGround picked. So my original idea was to write a
play about Nabokov's 1941 roadtrip. The working title was Nabokov's American
Blues or a Lolita Road Trip. Which after I created the outline, got
shortened down to just Lolita Roadtrip. But I have to say, the play that
grew out of that initial impulse was completely different from the one I had
originally conceived. One never knows what will eventually come out of a
PG: Lolita Roadtrip is based on Vladimir Nabokov’s real-life journey from New
York to Stanford. What research did you do to write the play?
TA: Well, yes and no. The original idea came from an account of that trip
which I read, and the roadtrip in my play, which forms the narrative spine,
is based on the route that Nabokov and his family took. I researched
Nabokov's life. Read a few books about him, his wife, Vera, and Dmitri, his
son. But I quickly decided that I didn't just want to write about these
historical figures and the actual trip. Which was not very dramatic. So a
lot of my research went out the window and now they only appear in one
scene, the "Grand Canyon" scene, which is sort of a fever-dream flash back.
However, I chose to create a fictional character, Julia, who would retrace
that 1941 roadtrip with a young man. As I wrote both tracks, slowly her
modern story began to take on a life of its own and I became much more
interested in telling a modern version of Lolita with the gender roles
reversed. So, I reread Lolita because I hadn't read it since High School, and
that was for an assignment about the evils of censorship and banning books.
I didn't get a very high grade, as I recall, because at the time I was
acting in a play and cramming lines late into the night, so I didn't finish
the book and relied on my knowledge of the Kubric film instead. Which if
you're familiar with, you know it's significantly different from the
novel. I never made that mistake again! That book informed my play in terms
of mood and tone, but again, the story in Lolita Roadtrip is completely
different and not based on Nabokov’s Lolita at all.
PG: Was there anything surprising or exciting that you discovered as you did
your research?
TA: When I received the PlayGround commission in the fall of '08, I had also
received a Djerassi Playwriting Residency. So for a month I had the gift of
time to literally sit on top of a mountain and read plays, do research and
write Lolita Roadtrip. It was also at this time that the economy fell apart
and I lost my job of 8 years. I was very glad to be able to focus on a new
project under circumstances which made the transition to "full time
playwright" (which sounds so much more positive than underemployed) a lot
easier! I read a lot of Nabokov. It was amazing. Pale Fire absolutely blew
my mind, I mean, just from a structural point of view, it's a masterpiece. A
light bulb went off and I knew that I wanted to have a similar "surprise"
element in my play, a real "aha moment.” But not in the "Mousetrap" way.
Where it will work best on an audience who doesn't see it coming. I hope
I’ve succeeded. The difficulty is, once an audience knows... it changes
everything. So, we’ll see if it works.
PG: Tell the truth: did you know what “lepidopterist” meant before you
started researching Nobokov?
TA: Ahem... yes. No, really, I did. I could even pronounce it. I just couldn't
spell it. Post-research and a few years later now I can even spell things
like Cyllópsis Pertepída Dorothéa, the Latin name of the butterfly that
Nabokov found and which makes a cameo in my play. Fortunately, I don’t have
to pronounce that onstage. ;-)

Read the rest of the interview.
Read the entire script of Lolita Roadtrip.
See Lolita Roadtrip with PlayGround.

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