One Play's Journey
When we last saw Kimberly Burke, the Austin playwright was headed to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to enjoy a year's residency at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis as one of five Jerome Fellows. Packed among her worldly goods were 50 or so "incoherent pages" of a new play that she and director Ellie McBride (dirigo group's The Jinn) had workshopped in, well, Burke's living room. That script was the focus of much of Burke's attention these past 12 months, with an autumn's worth of revisions and a more formal workshop at the Playwrights' Center with a Minneapolis director, Jef Hall-Flavin. Now, it returns to Austin as a fully fledged drama, receiving its world premiere from Bayou Productions and the Rude Mechanicals as part of the Rudes' Second Stage season. Minus Tide, as the darkly comic and somewhat disturbing play has come to be titled, focuses on the relationship between Allison, an entomologist, and Tim, a soldier, and how conflict both external and internal feeds their desire, as well as damage to their psyches. McBride, who praises Burke's "gift for language" and finds the play's "juxtaposition of poetry and brutality" compelling, directs. The Chronicle caught up with the playwright as she was flying back to Texas to learn more about the work.
Austin Chronicle: What was the spark that sent you down this road?
Kimberly Burke: The play started as a 10-minute piece I attempted to write exploring ways violence can predicate love, and how love can be used to obfuscate violence. Not surprisingly, this theme proved too large to fit into 10 minutes, and the 10 minutes grew into Minus Tide.
AC: How did your time in Minnesota affect the play?
KB: Where Ellie really brought out the experimental aspects of the play, Jef pushed for a more linear story. I'm glad to have had both workshops, because as a result of those two sometimes contradictory influences, I've tried to craft a script that carefully walks the line between them remaining mysterious without being muddled.
AC: Given that it has a soldier in it, one might assume that it has something to say about war in general, if not the Iraq war specifically. But it's also focused on the relationship between the two characters. Do you think of this more as a war play or a relationship play?
KB: This is very much a relationship play. Even when Tim is "at war," we only see/hear him through the letters he sends to his lover, Allison. And while Tim does have experiences overseas which come into play later, they affect his character, not the plot. I think that's what makes the play interesting: the violence in the script comes from the characters and exists between the characters only; it's not a veiled critique of the government or war in general, it's an exploration of a kind of war between two people.
AC: Is there anything in this play that scares you?
KB: Oh God, everything! It pushes all of the boundaries of what I'm comfortable with. It's structured after a triptych, in which each section is stylistically different from the previous while still following the same characters and story; that kind of structural experimentation is new for me. Moments in the script are unabashedly poetic, which is always scary. And there's lots of sex. I think the scariest thing is I've written this sex-ridden play, and my mom is coming to opening weekend!
Minus Tide runs May 25-June 10, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, at the Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo. For more information, call 476-RUDE or visit www.rudemechs.com.