This weekend Table Salt Productions presents a new play by Rachael Brogan Flanery. Titled Nest, the story follows a mother/daughter relationship after the mother suffers brain damage. City Pages recently took a moment to talk with Flanery about her script, the politics of writing about people you know, and producing new work.
City Pages: Can you tell us about Nest?
Rachael Brogan Flanery: I wrote it during grad school, but it's been through many incarnations since then. It utilizes a small ensemble cast, and centers on the relationship between a mother and daughter. We meet them at a crisis point. The mom has recurrent health issues and things are falling part. They need each other, and for the first time they are admitting that.
CP: How did you come up with the story?
RBF: It's not really based on anyone. It's not a true story. But I got the idea when my brother was engaged to now his now wife. Her mom had a traumatic brain injury and was having a lot of issues. We were all having Christmas together. Her mom said, "Why don't you write about me?" So I took that as a nugget. What's so interesting is observing my sister-in-law. As outsiders we have no idea what is going on. We see her mom as delightful, but there is this whole other life we don't know about. There's a whole different perception. Sometimes they get along, sometimes they don't, and sometimes it's very public.
CP: Have they seen the play?
RBF: They haven't. My brother and sister-in-law live in California. Her mom lives in Ohio. I don't know how autobiographical it would be of them, any more so than any other mother-daughter relationship. I had to put in my bio that it was a complete work of fiction, so my mom doesn't think it's about her.
CP: Does your sister-in-law and her mom know you based the story on them?
RBF: They know that I was writing it, but I never interviewed them.
CP: Has writing plays about people you know ever gotten you into trouble?
RBF: My mom thinks every play I've ever written has to do with her. Most of my plays have something to do with me. This play has more to do with me than anyone else I know. In grad school, as people got to know me and my work they would try to guess which character would have my sensibility. It's always really personal. I get jealous of writers who can write about such a different viewpoint than their own. I'm really stuck in my own head.
CP: Have you done acting or other modes of theater besides playwrighting?
RBF: I got into playwriting really late. When I was in undergrad I was all about acting. I got lucky in that I got some work here--mostly sketch comedy and dinner theater. I worked with Hey City in Tony and Tina's Wedding. But I thought, "I don't know if acting is the end all be all." So I started writing on my own. I thought about going back to grad school and I couldn't face acting. So I said, "We'll see if I can do this." I wrote some plays based on the admission requirements and I got in.
CP: Tell us about Table Salt Productions.
RBF: Jim Robinson and I met at Brave New Workshop and became close. He influenced me on deciding to go to UCLA. When I came back Jim and his partner Dennis were producing stuff. We would meet every two weeks, kind of like an informal writers' club. Jim said he was sick of deciding to produce a show and then six months later having to start all over. He wanted a company in order to build on previous work. So, we put one together. At first we got really bogged down with paperwork and administrative stuff. Should we go non-profit? Should we be for profit? We said, "Let's get a name. Let's get a mission statement. Let's figure it out with each show we do."
CP: You focus on new work for the most part, correct?
RBF: Yeah, we wouldn't be opposed doing more established work down the road. But for now we're more interested in new work. The problem is that it's hard to get people to buy tickets when they don't know what it's about.
CP: There aren't a lot of theater companies in town that do what you do: fully produce brand-new plays by local playwrights.
RBF: Yes it's hard, but I'm really proud of it. Sometimes we think, "Oh this play was so great, it was too bad more people didn't come and see it." And sometimes we think, "Wow, this play could have used more development." But it's been a great experience.
The Nest is directed by Rebecca Rizzion and features Maggie Scanlan, Kara Davidson, Andrea Guilford, and Nathan Tylutki. It runs 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays from February 24 through March 13 at the Lowry Lab Theatre (350 St. Peter St., St. Paul).