A LAND OF PURE IMAGINATION, AT TWO RIVER

Pinkolandia2Gaby (Andrea Morales) encounters an inhabitant of PINKOLANDIA in the play of the same name by Andrea Thome at Two River Theater.  (Photo by T.C. Erickson)

By TOM CHESEK

Just days after striking the set from Mr. Shakespeare’s fanciful Forest of Arden, the folks at Two River Theater Company got busy realizing another setting where occasional magic, romance, poetry and acts of heroism happen — a little place called Pinkolandia.

Don’t bother checking the map. Take it instead to the “black box” Marion Huber Theater inside Two River’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace, where a couple of young sisters named Gaby (Andrea Morales) and Beny (Maria Helan) have escaped with their family from their native Chile in the days of the Pinochet dictatorship to the cold and alien landscape of Reagan-era Wisconsin.

For playwright Andrea Thome — who grew up in Madison, WI with her Chilean mother and Costa Rican father — Pinkolandia represents a public triumph that’s interlaced with personal family history. An actor, author, dancer and sought-after translator, Thome has forged an eclectic resume of activity that sprawls from the West Coast (where she founded the Red Rocket Theater Company in San Francisco) to the East (where she serves as co-director of the “New York-based satire collective” known as Fulana). The Drama Desk at redbankgreen was pleased to speak with her during a “delightful, peaceful” week of rehearsals in Red Bank. Read on…

Andrea Thome 3PINKOLANDIA playwright Andrea Thome will appear at Two River Theater as part of a panel discussion on “Launching a New Play into the Repertoire of Great American Theater” following the matinee performance on Sunday, March 2.

redbankgreen: PINKOLANDIA has visited Red Bank once before, during one of Two River’s Crossing Borders festivals. Has the play changed, evolved to any significant degree, since the summer of 2012? 

ANDREA THOME: It depends on what you consider evolution. It’s all part of a process… I had brought in an early version that was two and a half hours long; a real sprawling exploration of this family’s world. During that first production in New York I did a lot of rewriting… then when we did it in Austin in October, I did some tweaks and rewrites. So hopefully by the end of the fourth engagement I’ll have some idea of what my play is.

You really need to see it on its feet: living and breathing — the girls’ imagination really comes alive when you see this play in a fully staged form. There’s a lot of language that’s not necessarily verbal… music and sound play an important role… and, well, there’s a bear.

It seems as though artistic director John Dias and Two River Theater took an early and avid interest in this script. 

The idea, with the Lark Play Development Center, was to get four theaters together; to have the various artistic directors all be part of the conversation. So there was a lot of cross-pollination, and John was very much part of that conversation — Two River did the reading in 2012, and then they sponsored an additional reading.

Rolling world premieres don’t necessarily mandate that the same actors and directors are going to be working on the various productions in different cities, but is anyone involved with the Red Bank engagement carrying over from the New York or Austin productions? 

Jose Zayas, who directed the reading in 2012, has worked with me for a long time, and he and a couple of the actors from the INTAR production are all coming to Red Bank. Maria Helan, who played Beny back in 2009, is back with the play — she’s kind of grown up with it.

Your various bios have you tagged as a “Chilean-Costa Rican, Wisconsin-born mutt,” and I’m reasonably sure there’s a healthy autobiographical streak running through PINKOLANDIA. But I’m not aware of there ever having been any kind of robust Chilean or Costa Rican community in Wisconsin… 

There were very few Latin Americans in Wisconsin when I grew up there in the 1970s and 80s. There were a lot of communities, though, certain towns that were so old-world that they were still speaking German, Norwegian, Polish — keeping the language and the culture alive.

I’m proud to be a mutt — a hybrid is a beautiful thing! We’re so many things as a country, and as individuals. I wish we were less afraid of each other… there’s no such thing as ethnic purity, or purification. We share all kinds of ideas, language with each other, and we don’t get rid of them so easily.

Language plays an even bigger part in your overall career, since you’ve become quite the in-demand translator of works by Spanish-speaking playwrights. 

I’ve never translated a dead playwright… I try to understand the playwright, and I try to be true to the original artist. Sometimes you can’t translate literally… you have to ask how this play can still affect the audience in the same way, when it’s presented in an entirely different language.

I used to be a dancer, you know… as a dancer you have your own body’s way of expressing yourself, and when you work with a new choreographer, you develop different muscles. Same as when you work with a director, another playwright… you develop new creative muscles.

One more very important question. Does a New Jerseyan have any right to bitch about winter to a Wisconsonian? 

Ha! Even in New York, where you would figure they’d be used to this sort of thing, I’m having to tell ‘em ‘people, get over yourselves…it’s winter! Twenty years ago, winter was like this!’

A longer version of this interview appears on Tom Chesek’s blog upperWETside. Take it here for tickets ($20 – $65 for adults; age-based, group and military discounts available) for PINKOLANDIA, which opens on Friday, February 28 and continues its limited engagement through March 23. 

Check the Two River website for info on additional special events at the theater’s Victoria G. Mastrobuono Library — including a special Loser Slam Poetry Slam (March 3) and Book Club event (March 9), as well as a panel following the March 2 matinee (on “Launching a New Play into the Repertoire of Great American Theater”) featuring Thome, John Dias and representatives of the other theaters premiering PINKOLANDIA.

TRTC has also inaugurated a new Inside Two River series of community events on the topic of civil rights and racial equality, presented under the banner “An Exploration of Justice,” and keyed to the upcoming April production of the Alice Childress play TROUBLE IN MIND. The series continues on Monday March 17 with a free 7 pm guest lecture by Columbia University professor Dr. Farah Griffin, on the challenges facing African Americans in the 1950s.

And the busy month of March finds the Two River team partnering with Newark’s  NJPAC on an all-African American concert production of Meredith Willson’s Broadway classic THE MUSIC MAN. More on that production — which plays six performances in Red Bank on March 13-16 — coming up, right here in redbankgreen.