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Texas premiere of ‘Good Friday’ explores gun violence and #MeToo

Andrew J. Friedenthal, Special to the American-Statesman
The Vortex and New Manifest Theatre Company will bring the Texas premiere of “Good Friday” to Austin on Feb. 28. [Contributed by New Manifest Theatre Company]

Sometimes, people ignore race when they talk about class. They discuss health care costs as something separate from taxes. The intersections of big issues can get lost in public discourse.

But Kristiana Rae Colón’s “Good Friday" takes a different path, exploring the confluence of two contemporary problems — gun violence and sexual assault. That intersection lies at the heart of the one-act play, which finds several women in an academic lecture hall during a campus shooting.

The Vortex and New Manifest Theatre Company will bring the Texas premiere of “Good Friday” to Austin on Feb. 28. The play runs through March 14. We caught up with Colón and director Simone Alexander to find out more about this timely production.

American Statesman: Kristiana, was there any specific impetus behind writing "Good Friday," or was it a more general reaction to issues of gun violence and the #MeToo era?

Kristiana Rae Colón: (The 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech) happened on my 21st birthday. I first wrote “Good Friday" as a play called “The Darkest Pit” while I was in grad school, after listening to Björk's "Pagan Poetry" on repeat for two weeks straight, and it came out of the fever dream of that trance. It was her lyric, "On the surface: simplicity; find the darkest pit in me." I was healing — read: reeling — from my own personal trauma. I couldn't have imagined that nearly a decade after Virginia Tech, our nation would still be so firmly in the grips of endemic gun violence intersecting toxic masculinity. So in 2015, I went back in the lab with the script and emerged with a rewrite so complete that it needed a new title. “Good Friday" offers the horrific dystopia we could avoid if we sought healing and justice and faced our own bloody wounds with bravery.

Simone, what drew you to producing and directing "Good Friday" at this particular moment?

Simone Alexander: As a producer, I am always looking for plays that are new or underproduced and playwrights whose work really speaks to me. When I came across “Good Friday" for the first time, it was right as the Flea (Theater)’s production in New York was closing last year. I reached out to get a copy of the script, and once I read it, I just knew I needed to produce and direct it. This play hit on what I believe are epidemic issues in our modern world and it tackles and questions those issues in such a real and unapologetic way. When I finally connected with Kristiana, that was when I knew this was meant to be. I’ve never worked with a playwright who is so hands-on and intentional about their work. It has empowered this whole production and everyone involved to really do the work needed to present it with the intentionality, care and support that it deserves.

The play features the perspectives of several different women on several vital issues facing us today. Do they also represent different intersectional notions of feminism and femininity?

Colón: The element of the play that invites multiple intersectional perspectives on the events is that all seven roles are ethnically unspecified. I only specify that a minimum of five of them be played by actors of color. Directors are empowered to create an intersectional analysis of the play with how they cast what identities in what roles.

How do you approach crafting a production touching on such traumatic issues while remaining sensitive to the feelings and concerns of your actresses and audience?

Alexander: Luckily, we have an incredible team around this production, and we started the work of building a brave space to navigate through these themes from early on in discussions with Kristiana. Kristiana has a note on intersectionality at the very beginning of the script that discusses the need to program support for the production team, cast and audience. Our dramaturg, Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel, brought in the mission statement from a collective Kristiana founded called the #LetUsBreathe collective and an essay by director Tara Branham on harm reduction. Based on those works, we established protocols to help create an environment of “brave space” as opposed to “safe space” when tackling this work. Creating a brave space allows our ensemble to check in and check out at the beginning and end of each rehearsal.

We are always talking about transparency and communication; we are mindful of taking breaks; and we have a self-care basket for anyone who needs it. It is difficult work, as we all have different relationships to these issues, but starting from the beginning with being intentional about care throughout has been healing and empowering.

Good Friday’

When: Opens Feb. 28; 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, with additional 8 p.m. show March 4, through March 14

Where: The Vortex, 2307 Manor Road

Tickets: $15-$37

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