Friday, August 3, 2018

a conversation with playwright Brian Maticic about his work PLAYING GAMES, which opens this weekend in a co-production between Space 55 and Brelby Theatre Company

Brian Maticic
by Gil Benbrook

The Valley theatre scene is not only full of talented actors, directors and creative artists but also an abundance of original playwrights who annually produce original works that are not only varied but are also intriguing and well written. Brian Maticic, who with his wife Shelby Maticic founded and operate the Brelby Theatre Company in Glendale, is one of those writers.

Every season the couple produce several original works at their theatre company, including some the pair have written, but this week Brian's play Playing Games, which was his senior thesis at Northern Arizona University, is being presented in a co-production between Brelby and Space 55.

In anticipation of this first co-production between these two theatre companies, I asked Brian some questions about his play, how it's changed from when he submitted it at NAU, and how this co-production came about.

I know this was your senior thesis project at NAU, but what was your inspiration for writing the play?

"Wow. Lets see if I can remember. Well, I started writing the first scene of this play when I was a college sophomore back in 2005. I really liked the idea, thought it had a huge amount of potential, and had an idea of where I wanted it to go, but honestly, didn't have enough life experience to really connect with what I was trying to explore. So it got set aside for a couple of years. This script went through multiple evolutions related to different stages of production, and as I matured as a writer and an artist over the years. Initially I think the idea came from an observation that the craziest (wackiest) people I was interacting with seemed to be genuinely the happiest. Perhaps it was an act and in private they were struggling just as much as everyone else. But even looking at myself, I had the most joy when I was being ridiculous with my friends to the point of playing a part. I wondered what it would look like in the private life of people who approached everything in their lives with a sense of play, sarcasm, and absurdity.  Then what happens when those same people truly have to deal with something you can't make light of?"

You mentioned the play has evolved since the version you submitted for your thesis, what can you tell us about the rewrites and that process?

"So. Many. Rewrites.  First its important to note, that the script went through a half dozen reads and rewrites to reach its original version. That said, as I mentioned earlier, the relationships in this play have spoken to me in different ways as I've matured, and in the first draft, It was clear I was a much younger writer with much less life to draw from. I still stand by the original drafts as pretty decent plays, but the script has grown as I've grown as a playwright.  The first major overhaul of the script happened in  I want to say 2012. We produced Playing Games as a part of the last Phoenix Fringe Festival. By this point I was married, which to be honest, was essential to understanding how to deepen the strengths and challenges of the relationships of the characters in the play. It was well attended, and audiences were very receptive. This was actually the last production we did before deciding that we needed our own storefront to really move our dream of starting a theatre forward.  I've revisited the script a few times since then, had a few informal reads in our living room, and made tweaks along the way. This production has been a really interesting process that has forced me to look at how I've changed as a playwright and artist over the years."

Were there any scenes in the piece that you found difficult to write, or any scenes that you continually found yourself rewriting when you were working on the play?

"Yes definitely. Act 2 turns a bit dark, and explores the other side of always putting on an act with people; manipulation, gas lighting, abuse. Those scenes were exceptionally difficult to dig into. The themes themselves are difficult to think about and explore in their own right, but I'm generally such a happy trusting person, it was unnerving to think about how someone would manipulate me, or how I would manipulate someone else. It took me several drafts to find a balance I was happy with in those scenes. The character Jason in these scenes has evolved from draft to draft more than any other characters in the show. "

Devon Mahon, Alex Tuchi and Melody Chrispen
photo by Shelby Maticic
At the center of the play is a couple that likes to play emotional games with strangers to keep their marriage alive. Was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, which also focuses on a couple that plays games with strangers, a basis for the piece? If not, have you discovered any interesting comparisons between the two plays?

"It wasn't my intention in any way to base Playing Games on Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?.  There are some obvious parallels, and in some ways its impossible not compare certain pieces but they are very different plays. Games, specifically in the first act is much much more of a light hearted comedy about love and accepting the people you love despite, or because of their flaws. Selfishly, I'm not sure I want my work to be compared to such a noteworthy piece of theatre history. Talk about intimidating. "

I know that you and your wife Shelby like to play board games and other party games with guests. While I'm not saying that you modeled the couple in the play on you and Shelby, was there anything personal from your relationship and marriage that you brought to the piece? 

"Shelby and I are a little strange, and we do love our games, but we can't hold a candle to these characters. Of course. I always bring a part of my experience to the pieces i write. As over the top as Mel and Bryson are, much of the love and acceptance and willingness to go along with whatever the mad-brained scheme of the day is is based on what I saw in the most successful relationships around me. Each Character in this show is informed by and cobbled together from little pieces of people that have been in my life. Beyond that, I see an aspect of myself or my personality in each of the characters in at least some small way. Some of these are flattering, some of them are embarrassing. And no, I'm not telling which are which."

How did this co-production between Space 55 and Brelby Theatre Company come to be?

"Shelby and I have enjoyed Space 55 for years and have attended many of their shows.  We were ecstatic to have an opportunity to collaborate with them. John Perovich, who recently stepped into the artistic director role for Space 55 is a former Brelby Company member, and a long time collaborator and friend. We have produced several shows that John has penned including Spy Love You which closed a few weeks ago at Brelby. Shelby and I also have a great relationship with a few of the members of the board for Space 55. The idea came about as a way to cross pollinate some of our audience, and  raise awareness for both theatres and the presence of original work in AZ. Playing Games has limited technical needs, and is just weird enough to really fit with what Space 55 likes to produce. When John pitched the idea of exploring a co-pro it honestly felt like a no brainer, and Playing Games seemed like the exact right fit for our first attempt. "

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Playing Games?

"Of course there are many themes that I hope stick with the audience, and I think one of the most beautiful things about theatre is everyone experiences it differently and will cling to different things. That said, I would love for them to have a good time first and foremost. I hope they laugh. Beyond that, the value of being genuinely yourself and letting your freak flag fly, as well as the importance of protecting those you love."

CLICK HERE for more information on Playing Games, which runs August 4-August 19

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