The Playwrights’ Center presents a reading of Adam Kraar’s new play The Karpovsky Variations on Monday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m., at 2301 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis.
The reading is free and open to the public as part of the Center’s 2012-13 Ruth Easton New Play Series. It is directed by Hayley Finn and performed by Mark Benninghofen, Michael Booth, Alex Galick, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Linda Kelsey and NYC stalwart Joe Urla.
Producing Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen calls the new work a jazz-inspired, emotionally-rich piece from third-year core writer Kraar. The play already received readings at The New Group in New York in February and April of 2012.
For this workshop, a sound designer will collaborate to further explore and develop the essential musical elements of the story.
“As the title suggests, music plays an integral role to both the characters and the larger narrative of the play,” Cohen says in an introductory letter. “The play is inspired by jazz, and its main character Julia utilizes music as a way to explore her fractured cultural identity and try to connect with her family. Much of the play takes place in an airport, an apt backdrop for Julia to try to assemble the scattered aspects of her family history within the context of her transient life.”
The play follows Julia Karpovsky, whose father is brilliant, talented — and lives half a world away. Growing up among her eccentric and disparate relatives, Julia navigates her way through a family with a missing piece, searching for the elusive notes of her father’s clarinet. The musical story traces the Karpovskys’ encounters at airport lounges over two decades as they improvise what it means to be a family.
Adam Kraar is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center. His plays include Wild Terrain, Empire of the Trees, Freedom High, New World Rhapsody and The Spirit House. Kraar’s work has been produced and/or developed by Primary Stages, New York Stage and Film, Public Theater, The New Group, La MaMa and many others. His plays appear in five Best American Short Plays anthologies and his awards include the Sewanee Writers’ Conference Fellowship, Inge Center Residency and Manhattan Theatre Club Fellowship.
In writing The Karpovsky Variations, Kraar calls upon his experience growing up in India, Thailand, Singapore and the United States. “Even after all these years, I often feel like I’m looking at America with the eyes of a foreigner,” Kraar says. “I think that’s drawn me to stories about outsiders and people who are trying to find a tribe that they can belong to, which is certainly the story of Julia in this play.”
“For this workshop, we’ve connected Adam with a fantastic sound designer with whom he’ll collaborate to develop further levels of the piece, and which will allow him to explore this essential element of the story for the first time,” says Producing Artistic Director Jeremy Cohen. The form of the play is jazz-like, with a sometimes improvisatory feel, and music plays an integral role to both the characters and the larger narrative of the play.
Seats (free) for the reading of The Karpovsky Variations can be reserved by visiting www.pwcenter.org, emailing [email protected] or calling (612) 332-7481 x110. www.pwcenter.org.
An interview with Adam Kraar
From the Playwrights’ Center Dialogue publication
What was your inspiration for writing this play?
For a long time I’ve been struck by this deep disconnect between people of my great-grandmother’s generation, who saw family as the highest value of all, and various men in my father’s generation who love their families but are also hugely driven to achieve. In many ways they’d become blind to their families, especially the women. The play isn’t autobiographical, but I’ve always been fascinated by the archaeology of families: how a family’s history and collective myths can impact the whole direction of people’s lives.
The main character in this play, Julia, spends most of her childhood in Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo – various parts of Asia – and I know that you spent parts of your childhood in Asia. I was wondering what influence that’s had on your writing, and certainly this play.
It’s had a huge influence, especially recently. I’ve been back from Asia many years, but a lot of my recent work was inspired by growing up there and also by the experience of returning to America and finding the U.S. to be a very strange place. Even after all these years, I often feel like I’m looking at America with the eyes of a foreigner.
I think that’s drawn me to stories about outsiders and people who are trying to find a tribe that they can belong to, which is certainly the story of Julia in this play. And I think having seen a good amount of theater in Asia also influences my work because a lot of my plays draw on myth and/or ritual, and often I find I need to tell stories in a non-realistic way.
In what ways is this piece non-naturalistic – what departures do you see happening stylistically?
I think a lot of the play, even when it may seem realistic, is being seen through the filter of memory and through the lens of family myth as Julia sees it. So there are various degrees of non-reality in the play, from nightmarish fantasy to scenes that are just a little more loose and bouncy and wild than I think they would be in reality.
You had a chance to workshop the play at the Playwrights’ Center at an earlier stage in its development. What’s changed since and where are you taking this play next?
Julia, the main character, has become more central to the play. The play has always been a balancing act between the story of Julia struggling to overcome the disconnect with her family, and an ensemble piece about a whole family being tested by changes over time. Since that first workshop, through a number of drafts, the script has definitely moved Julia more center-stage. I’d love to use this workshop to build for the audience a path to the associative leaps that Julia takes as her way of telling the story. After the first workshop last season at the Center, there were two readings with the New Group that were also very much a part of the project’s journey.
What’s most important to you about the fabric of who Julia is?
She’s lost, passionate and full of contradictions, because there’s a part of her that desperately wants to belong, to connect with her father and her family, and there’s an equally strong part of her that wants to forge an independent identity from them. Because they’re driving her nuts. So I think she’s very split.
Music obviously plays an important part in this play, and it’s alluded to in the title, The Karpovsky Variations. More specifically, how does music function in the play and why have you chosen to work with a sound designer in this workshop?
I think Julia’s desperately trying to play the family music, and that music is eluding her because of the deep chasm between her and her father and uncles. She’s trying to play the family music both on a concrete level, by playing various instruments, and also by creating a kind of theater music. What she’s trying to do is create a performance piece that will conjure her family for herself and for her audience, her listeners. Because of that, I very much see the form of the play as jazz-like, with a sometimes improvisatory feel.
I do think that jazz – as well as klezmer and airport lounge music – is important to the texture of the play. But beyond that, I’m hoping to see the ways in which music can help propel the story. I think there may be ways in which music can evoke things about the journey of each character.
What do you hope the audience will take away from seeing this play?
A sense of sadness and amusement with the mishegas of families who are scattered apart yet still deeply needing to belong. I’d love for an audience to leave with a renewed awareness of the complex ways that our identity is interwoven with our family, past and present. To look in a fresh way at identity and what that means.
What type of theater or writers inspire you?
I think any kind of play – whether it’s a well-made play or a completely anti-dramatic performance piece – that relies a lot on collaboration with the imagination of the audience. I also love comedy and poetry in the theater. My playwright identity is so interwoven with my relationship with people like Chekhov and Tennessee Williams and Ronald Ribman and Kia Corthron and Thornton Wilder and Shakespeare. So I guess it runs the gamut, but all of those writers are very much writing for the live theater event – directly for an audience. Their work is challenging and complex and filled with contradictions, and I think at its best it’s mysterious and strange – and essentially human. And it’s work that, when it’s done well, also makes me laugh out loud.
Would you describe this play as having comic moments, as well?
I hope so. I compare the tone of it to klezmer music, which is bouncy and sometimes hilarious, and then it can quickly shift and be soulful and quite sad. I’m very interested in serio-comedy, because I guess that’s my experience of life: extremely funny and filled with a lot of heartache.