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Southern Discomfort

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Elisabeth Gray
March 12, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright and Actor.

What is your show about?
Storytelling meets stand-up comedy in this one-woman show about the contemporary American South: Triple Distilled Southern Gothic.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in South Carolina and raised all over the South-- Louisiana, Georgia, the Carolinas. At eighteen, I left the South and moved to England to attend Oxford University. What a culture shock! But perhaps most shocking was my sudden awareness of the perception of Southerners outside of the South-- namely, as completely ignorant, backward neanderthals. Southerners remain some of the most stereotyped, oversimplified and misunderstood people in the world. All the characters you meet in the show (and the writer who created them) were born and raised in the American South; they are all complex individuals with rich interior lives, vibrant thoughts and ready sensitivities. What emerges from within them is an embodiment of the paradox of life: the good and the bad, the divine and the obscene, the comic and the tragic.

What are some of your previous theater credits? (Be specific! Name shows, etc.)
Currently, I perform in Breakfast at Tiffany's on Broadway eight times a week; I play a handful of minor characters every night, and also understudy all of the other women, including Holly GoLightly. So my hands are full!

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT evolved out of my desire to explore a humorous, tragic, and honest vision of the South I grew up in and the strange, wondrous people who inhabit it. The challenge and the fun of the project has been to discover compassion for characters who— on the surface, at least— warrant none, who would be overlooked by an outsider as slovenly or boring or materialistic or racist or demented— you name it. The question became, “What in me is just like these people?”

Which mythical character would like your show the best: Cyclops, Cupid, Paul Bunyan or the Easter Bunny?
Oh, Cyclops, most definitely! Poor Cyclops. I have always read Homer's Odyssey and thought that Cyclops was really just a symbol for everything that is monstrous in ourselves, the inherently ugliness of self-perception. The cyclops is a giant, big-boned ogre with one-eye. And even if we don't look that way, everybody I know has the feeling that some part of themselves is innately unlovable, impossibly grotesque. Certainly the South itself has been a cyclops of sorts, with some pretty rotten chapters in history. But then, we've all had those moments in our own lives (even if those moments don't include slavery, Jim Crow, and profound racism!)...SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT is for the Cyclops in each and every one of us!

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I don't believe that theater can bring about societal change in and of itself, no. But I do believe that theater can reveal us to ourselves as humans. It is, after all, the chance to "hold the mirror up to nature." But it's only the mirror. After you look in the mirror, the change is up to you.