Rachel Bonds and Mike Donahue.
Playwright Rachel Bonds and director Mike Donahue first worked together on the premiere of Bonds’ play The Wolfe Twins for Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. Bonds had seen a play of Donahue’s in New York and thought they would be a good artistic match.
“That process was such a joyous experience—and felt very much to me like finding an artistic soul-mate,” says Bonds. “I think we both immediately knew we would be working together again and again.”
“I immediately fell in love with The Wolfe Twins when I read it, I was even more taken by Rachel’s precision and rigor throughout the process, and her generosity as a collaborator,” adds Donahue. “That process/production was one of those magic ones where everything really comes together and soars, and it was clear from the moment we first grabbed coffee that Rachel would be a close friend and collaborator for life.”
Bonds and Donahue are currently in the midst of their third collaboration, the SCR-commissioned Curve of Departure (playing on the Argyros Stage through Oct. 15). Although they were both dealing with hectic schedules during the final week of rehearsals, we were able to ask them a few questions about what makes their working relationship such a success.
What are you both enjoying about the development process of Curve of Departure? What’s been the most challenging aspect?
Donahue: This is the first piece Rachel and I are working together that takes place in real time, so in addition to the challenges of navigating intimacy and vulnerability in situations that don’t necessarily allow for it, we’re having to unpack how the accumulation of the evening allows for and necessitates what happens next moment to moment.
Bonds: We did so much development on this script at the table over the past year and a half, so it’s been so exhilarating to actually see it take shape up on its feet. It’s such a dense play—so many small events occur one after the other after the other …and it’s been really fun to craft each of these events and make sure the play accumulates in the most satisfying way. The most challenging aspect has been trying to balance my responsibilities as a playwright with my responsibilities as a new parent. Namely, sleep deprivation.
When did you realize that language was a powerful tool and that you wanted to become a playwright?
Bonds: I was always writing, from a young age, but for a long time. I felt more dedicated to being an actor. I thought that’s where I was headed. Then after a couple of years in New York doing both, I realized my writing felt more rewarding and expansive than acting ever could. So I switched my focus.
When did you know you wanted to be a director? And is there a specific type of play that you find yourself drawn to?
Donahue: Detours into wanting to be a large animal vet or design theme parks aside, since I was seven or eight—I used to direct my cousins in sight specific productions at my grandparents’ house….The plays I work on look very different from one another, which I love. Often they are physically challenging or require a vocabulary to be developed—but I think they all tend to have a generosity of spirit, a sharp sense of tone, specificity in the language and are grappling with issues of class, sexuality and race.
What is it about Mike’s directing process that inspires you and/or makes your collaboration so rewarding?
Bonds: He is both very, very rigorous and very, very kind. He brings both specificity and humanity to the process, and that is a really powerful combination for my plays.
What is it about Rachel’s writing that resonates with you?
Donahue: I think Rachel has an incredible ear for the little cracks and fissures in our every day speech and interactions—and is able to capture those events, and in doing so, reveal the much deeper shifting of tectonic plates in people’s lives. She builds character with such generosity, humanity, and humor—and forces characters to navigate intimacy and vulnerability in environments and situations that don’t easily facilitate it. For me, her work is always surprising, heartbreaking and healing.
What can audiences expect when they attend the world premiere of Curve of Departure?
Donahue: I think so much of this play is about parenting—how to be a parent, and how to be a child—the need to let go. And the unexpected ways in which family can be defined and created. I think audiences will find a number of different ways into this story, and hope that everyone can share in a moving, satisfying, surprisingly funny and healing evening in the theatre.
Bonds: I’m not a plot-driven playwright. So my plays don’t function on crazy plot-twists or dramatic fireworks. I’m more interested in the quiet events that take place between us, the events that seem small but have big reverberations. I’m also interested in that blurry line between the super sad and the super funny…and this play certainly lives in that place.
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