Imagine a world in which the actors are the greatest rebels and theater is contraband. This is the world of Meg Miroshink’s new play, The Droll (Or, a Stage Play about the END of Theatre), which has its world premiere at Undermain Theatre Saturday.
Inspired by the Puritan Interregnum in 17th-century England, a period during which theaters were closed and actors performed short sketches called drolls, often illegally, to keep their craft alive, Miroshnik created a world that is somehow of the past and the future. She’s crafted a makeshift language for the play to be further disorienting; it’s not entirely Shakespearean and it’s not entirely modern. She’s hoping that the world of the play absorbs the audience.
“I was thinking about this not just as a period piece but sort of an archaic future mash up,” Miroshnik says. “I was also thinking about what it is like to be a kid and fall in love with theater now.”
The story revolves around a young boy named Nim, who catches an underground production of an illegal theatrical troupe and falls in love with theater against all odds. He works his way into their company, which is filled with archetypal characters from theater. There’s the lead actor, the company manager, the handsome younger man and the man who plays the female roles.
“[Nim] becomes this hybrid of an entrepreneurial performer,” says Miroshnik. “For me it kind of resonates. A lot of what we see now are artists who are able to control their own destinies.”
Miroshnik’s work was on the Undermain stage last year with The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, a play that mashed up folklore with contemporary female characters. In both that show and this one, Miroshnik explores different types of community built through storytelling.
“Both plays are also about booming adults, or taking responsibility,” says Miroshnik. “In both plays the protagonists have to to do really bad things, and making peace with that?"
What's different, perhaps wildly, in The Droll is the constructed language. Miroshnik credits her time in Russia for making her hyper attentive to language. For this piece she invented a language that demands a deeper investment from the audience.
"When you connect to a story that you had to do a little bit of work for," she explains. "You’re a collaborator in that storytelling process. It's different than something you could have on while you do the laundry."
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And though Russia has its own struggles with censorship, Miroshnik says she never fully experienced it. For her, the meaningful connection to the story is the question, "does theater have a future?"
"As someone who looks at the numbers of audience demographics and the percentage of Americans who have seen a play in the last year, the question of how can this form continue and how can it be vital is important," says Miroshnik. "That felt really urgent."
And in this play, the answer comes in the form of the young person falling in love with theater for the first time — at least that's how the story begins.
See The Droll (Or, a Stage Play about the END of Theatre) through October 17. Tickets start at $15. More at undermain.org.