The show isn't autobiographical, but is somewhat inspired by real experiences. Of a relationship he was in many years ago, low states, "I emerged with the knowledge that it's questionable whether I have the maturity to sustain a single romantic relationship, let alone multiple ones. That's not the relationship in the play, and the characters certainly aren't us--they're fictional constructs--but it's most likely that that event triggered my interest in the ways that we choose to structure those relationships."[jump]
Like other works by low and Maximum Verbosity, the piece plays with stories and structure to delve into the topic at hand. "The show originally came into existence as a 15-minute, two-actor, multi-character comedy act; and despite the degree to which it has expanded and evolved, that may account for its vaudeville-esque structure," low says. "The production is, in some respects, half play and half variety show, trying to filter the concepts through a variety of different mediums: dance, clowning, mime, storytelling, puppetry, and comedy dialogues."
There are mythical creations at the center of Penner's search for a definition, from ones modeled on ancient Greek gods to roles for the Moirae, the three fates, "who mutely govern the action of the play and express themselves through mime, dance, and clowning."
At the center of all of this is Penner, a character who has appeared in several of low's previous works. It's a character that isn't autobiographical; low says he has "always found biography-as-dramaturgy to be a dubious prospect." "I've commented--only half-jokingly--that I sometimes think that writing him helps keep me from becoming him; which is good, since I regard him as a buffoon, selfish, manipulative, and delusional," he says.
Moving deeper into the idea of autobiography, low finds that it is easy to confuse the creations of the writer with the actual events and feelings of their life.
"There may be some truth to the old writing anecdote that 'all characters are part me,' but that's--hopefully--a woefully incomplete observation. Otherwise, a play is nothing more than a kind of narcissistic fragmentation of personality," he says. "I find it particularly distressing, since audiences tend to walk away from these shows--particularly comedies, for whatever reason--confident that they've decoded some hidden truth about the author; and if he denies it, he's simply deceiving himself. The parts that they assume are autobiographical, usually aren't--and the parts that are, they'd never guess."
Penner vs. the Hyrda runs Friday, February 4 through February 12.