"Kira writes super fast. She's written two plays in one year," says Ten Thousand Things artistic director Michelle Hensley.
The writing was aided by a Mellon Foundation grant that has made Obolensky the playwright in residence for the company. The fruit of that relationship opens for the public Friday, when Dirt Sticks premieres at Open Book.
This is the third time Obolensky has worked with Ten Thousand Things. "The audiences are in your head," she says about the unique blend of nontraditional audiences and theatergoers the company plays for. "What is the story that is going to connect with people from all different walks of life?"
Dirt Sticks took a winding development. Obolensky's first thought was a historical play looking at the suffrage movement. "I did research and watched a lot of bad movies. It led me to mill workers and the landscape of the East Coast," she says.
Eventually, some of the research ended up in the "sediment" of the play's landscape. However, the final play had nothing to do with those initial thoughts. "When you write for Ten Thousand Things, they can be described as fairy tales. They are not historical plays, but there is always a sense of history," Obolensky says.
Dirt Sticks centers on the power of stories. A peddler arrives in a town haunted by its past. Obolensky looked at plenty of folklore, especially stories from Appalachia, to help build the texture of the piece.
"At Ten Thousand Things, you have a bare-bone aesthetic to work with. They're not plays that require sofas and armchairs," Obolensky says. "Then I gave Michelle a 70-foot waterfall, a ladder factory, the roof of the ladder factory, and the moon."
Hensley had no trouble embracing the spaces the play inhabits. "She really does have access to these fairy-tale worlds. There is a strange, mysterious peddler who comes with this enormous moon. These are characters caught in the stories in the past, and how these objects help them to become unstuck," she says. "Being stuck in your life is something everyone can relate to."
Dirt Sticks also "is really funny. People just need to laugh so much. Kira is funny and quirky. Here, the language is full of quirky," Hensley adds.
While Dirt Sticks wraps up the 2013-14 season, work is already underway for the next. The 2014-15 season opens with Romeo and Juliet, directed by Theatre Latte Da's Peter Rothstein. That will be followed by a remounting of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which Ten Thousand Things first tackled 15 years ago.
"It's this really great American story of a woman who has this incredible love. When we did it 15 years ago, we had people sobbing," Hensley says.
The season ends with Obolensky's new work, The New Don Juan. The play is based on Odon von Horvath's 1930s anti-war play, Don Juan Comes Back From the War. "It's really a misogynist and hateful play," Obolensky says. "I've done a loose adaptation. It's about a man who comes back from war to a small farming community. All of the men are gone, and the women have taken over. The war has eaten up all these men. It's about how he figures out how to reenter society."