Playwright Morgan Rose is a theatre practitioner originally from the US but now calls Melbourne home. Her most recent work, Desert – 6.29PM, opens at Red Stitch Theatre this week to much anticipation.
This is a play about secrets, family and isolation. Rose shares that the seed of the idea for the work came from an old country song, but, she says, it quickly grew into something more, something different. “From the song I knew that the story was about a teenage girl and her family, that it would take place primarily around their dining table, and that this girl had a secret she had to keep from everyone. As the idea grew and distanced itself from the song, it became clear that the work would have fantasy sequences: moments where we saw what was happening inside the characters’ heads. I also knew that I wanted it to be incredibly intimate—that the work would be detailed delicate realism to contrast these bold moments of fantasy. Eventually the story developed into a play about a closeted queer kid in the middle of a desert town, and what it feels like to keep that secret. (And other things as well, of course.)”
The work is set in a town in the middle of nowhere. It’s dinnertime and a family sits down to dinner. Like many families, this family shares the dichotomy of closeness and separation – how well do they really know one another. At the centre of the story is Xan. Rose establishes a story filled with characters that are endowed with human foibles – strengths and weaknesses – that make them both identifiable and engaging. Interestingly, this is Rose’s in as a playwright – to write characters that are both of these things as well as a part of herself.
“Honestly, I identify with all of them. That’s the only way I know how to write a character—as some small piece of myself blown up and examined. They are all terribly flawed, terribly embarrassing, terribly beautiful humans. They are all trying really hard to be a family, to be themselves. I don’t know if I’d get along with all of them, but I love them, and in some weird way, they are all me.”
As a playwright, Rose is drawn to character mostly, especially characters not typically seen on stage or in film. “I’m interested in the shame we all hold as human beings and the different forms it takes,” she says. “I am fascinated by the impotence of language. How we can talk and talk and talk and actually never say what we mean. How we can say one thing but actually mean the opposite. How some things are inexpressible in words. This particular play was about (among other things) how we can appear one way to the people we love the most (our families) but what’s going on inside us is completely different, hidden, unexpected. We have the ability to hide pieces of ourselves from the entire world: what a gift and what a curse.”
Rose has been working on the piece for 3 years now with the company under the Red Stitch INK programme. The cast and creative team has been together for a year, developing the script. “This has been such a luxury. The input of the team has been vital and the work very much belongs to all of us at this point'” she says.
This is the most support Rose has ever had during the writing phase of a work, and, she admits, it’s meant that this play is the most detailed thing she has ever written. “Often playwrights have to come up with the first draft of a play alone in a room, with no support, and this wasn’t the case at all with this play,” she says. “Red Stitch has been there from the first idea—helping the play come to life, offering ideas, notes, and support. In this way, the work really belongs to the whole team, the whole company, the cast and creatives who have helped shaped it. Theatre is a collaborative art form, and so this is my ideal way or working. I like writing a character with an actor in mind, and writing a scene with a director in mind. So Red Stitch and the INK program have been vital to this work, and I think this is one of the most important programs happening right now when it comes to developing new Australian scripts.
When asked how Rose would describe the work to someone who knew nothing about it, she says:
“Listen to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZt5Q-u4crc. It’s like that. Except also not like that at all.”
November 14 – December 14