About the Play:
A gay teenager travels to Pluto to meet Marilyn Monroe, cope with the crush and crash of first love, and decide whether or not life is for him after all. RUNNING TIME: 30 minutes.
Why Pluto is a Planet will be presented Saturday, July 23 at 8:00 PM.
About the Author:
Darragh Martin is an Irish playwright living in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. He is currently completing a PhD in Theatre at Columbia University on a Fulbright Scholarship. His most recent project, The Map of Lost Things, which combined Celtic myth, puppetry and live music, was developed at manhattantheatresource and went on to play at The First Irish Festival at PS122. Other work includes: An Air Balloon across Antarctica (Green Room Award nominee for Best New Writing; Edinburgh, Melbourne, Adelaide and New York Fringe Festivals); The Disappearance of Jonah (New York Fringe Festival); Everything is Invisible (Melbourne Fringe Festival); An Alphabet of Pluto (Guildford Lane Gallery); After Hippolytus (Gene Frankel Theatre). Darragh has a small theatre company (the invisible company) where he has worked as a director and curated series of short and sharp plays by New York writers: The Central Park Plays and The Rainbow Monologues.
OOB Festival: Where do you come from (home state, state of mind, or both)?
Darragh: I was born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland, so that will always be my homeland: the place I love to complain about but then immediately defend when anybody else criticizes it. I also spent a couple of years in Melbourne, Australia after college. Melbourne is where I wrote the first play I was really proud of (An Air Balloon across Antarctica) and where a lot of people I care dearly about live, so that’s also a sort of home. And of course now New York has been home for the past few years and is filled with people and places that I love.
I’ve been very lucky to travel and happy in all of my homes but I think I’m stuck with some sort of permanent nostalgia for several different homes at once. Until they get worm holes or warping sorted out, I’ll probably always feel as if a small part of me is somewhere else. Which I guess, sort of speaks to the state of mind question (insert nervous, hopeful sound that this transition is seamless) and to part of the state I’m trying to describe in Why Pluto is a Planet – the difference between the ground feet tread on every day and that sometimes distant space where the mind wanders.
OOB Festival: Give us five words that describe who you are as a playwright.
Darragh: ‘Faraway worlds and human hearts.’ OR ‘Gay, Irish, believes in beauty.’
OOB Festival: Talk about your entry to this year’s Festival. How did you come to write this play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation?
Darragh: Why Pluto is a Planet has a very clear inspiration, which is a little unusual for me. I was really moved by the ‘It Gets Better’ project started last year by Dan Savage, where people of all shapes and shades of sexuality spoke out against homophobic bullying in High School. I never got around to making a video, but this play is sort of a response to the project.
In many ways, it’s a more personal play than many of the ones I have written. I definitely spent a lot of my time in secondary school with half my head in another world and parts of the play are based on that (including my almost inhuman ability to suck majestically at every variety of sport, something which sadly has gotten better as time passed). I wasn’t courageous or clued-in enough to figure out I was gay in high school, but other friends I had were dealing with being out and this play is very loosely based on some of their and my experiences.
At the same time, I was very clear that I didn’t want to write a play telling my story (which wouldn’t be terribly dramatic) or any of the stories of the ‘It Gets Better’ videos (which would be a little presumptuous) or everybody’s story (which would be both presumptuous and impossible). I wanted to write a story that dealt with some of the problems facing gay teenagers while also avoiding a kind of preachy afterschool special tone. So I had an idea of a play that I wanted to write, but wasn’t really sure how to write it.
And then the image of Marilyn Monroe on Pluto entered my head one morning. I’d already written a couple of pieces about Pluto as an icy underworld at the edge of our solar system. I love the idea of Pluto as both a cold and distant planet (or Trans-Neptunian object!) and the Roman god of the underworld. It seemed to be the right world for this piece, seemed to capture something about the strange wonder and terrible cold of adolescence, the sadness of being too small to be heard… Once I figured out that this play took place on Pluto with Marilyn Monroe as a tour-guide, it was surprisingly easy to write.
OOB Festival: What is one thing you hope audiences will take away from your Festival piece? Is there any information you would like them to know before they watch your work performed?
Darragh: I’m very wary of writing plays that have messages, so there’s not really one thing that I hope audiences take away. I hope they find the piece entertaining. I hope they are moved. In the most ideal of worlds, I’d like to stir audiences a little as well, to have them think about not just how or whether or not it gets better, but how things can be better in high school. High school shouldn’t be a hurdle on the way to a better, more accepting world but a place where that world can be created.
I think the ‘It Gets Better’ project was a brilliant way of using the internet to speak directly to high school students who are struggling with bullying. I don’t think this piece could ever have that kind of impact, but I think there’s also space and a need for more stories about being young, queer and overcoming fear. So I’m hopeful that this piece can find a wider audience after the Festival and that further-flung teenagers from Plano to Pluto can take something from it and indeed, write their own stories.
OOB Festival What/who are some of the major influences on your writing? What’s the most unconventional place/thing that you’ve taken inspiration from?
Darragh: There’s obviously a lot of tremendous Irish playwrights but my favorite at the moment is Enda Walsh who wrote Disco Pigs – his words really fizz and crackle and he has an amazing capacity to create plays that leave me clutching my ribs from laughing too hard one moment and picking my heart from the floor the next.
The first play I directed was Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas and I think it captures a lot of what I aim for in my writing – something that is absurd but anchored, beautiful but bittersweet, funny and lyrical but also surprisingly sharp. Most of my work contains absurdist situations (a woman and a hamster on an air balloon across Antarctica; an underwater circus; Marilyn Monroe on Pluto) but is anchored in a real, hopefully relatable, story and characters. So I like writers who play with this dynamic: Sarah Ruhl, Caryl Churchill, Jim Cartwright, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Safran-Foer…
As for the most unconventional thing that I’ve been inspired by, I’ve been lucky to take class with Charles Mee at Columbia for a couple of years and he always has wonderful exercises for us to try. One of my favorites was one I adapted a bit and wrote a piece with scenes based on garbage from our basement. So I got to rifle through a lot of people’s rubbish and ended up with scenes based on pizza boxes, exercise videos, yellowing romance novels, apple cores, flecks of lint… Though I haven’t done anything with this piece, it kind of evolved into After Hippolytus, a queer twist on the Hippolytus myth that I wrote which takes place in a garbage dump of lost love, containing everything from Monica Lewinsky’s semen stained dress to a mixed tape that Echo made for Narcissus.
OOB Festival: What is your “dream play”–that is, if the more restrictive elements of production (budget, space, casting, and technical elements) were not a consideration, what type of theatre piece would you create?
Darragh: In a lot of ways, I really like the challenge of making shows from love and twine. I was blown away by the puppets that Katey Parker, who collaborated with me on The Map of Lost Things, was able to make on and out of shoestrings. What I’d like to do is keep making these kind of pieces (and keep using simple and recycled materials) but have enough money to properly pay actors, designers, stage managers…I think there’s a lot of excellent theatre in New York, but there’s a huge gap between the excess of Broadway and shows where everybody’s delighted to get a dime.
That said, if money were no object, I also wouldn’t mind doing some spectacular site-specific pieces. As I’ve said, I’ve written a couple of pieces about Pluto (including this) and I do dream of staging them in outer space (gravity permitting) or otherwise somewhere like the Planetarium at the Natural History Museum. I have visions of intergalactic pink snow, exploding light bulbs, astronauts floating into the ether, the music of the spheres…
OOB Festival: If someone saw you on the street, what’s one fact that they would never guess about you?
Darragh: That I almost went to nursing school.