Alice and Natalie are hopeful lovers who find themselves at the edge of the woods. To reach Natalie’s house, you first must cross an "old, gnarled, Brothers Grimm-type" bridge. It's an easy bridge to cross -- once.
Tickets for mainstage shows are $15 each, or order tickets to both shows for just $20.
Pipeline-Collective's performances will be at the Belmont Little Theatre on the Belmont University campus. Click here for a map.
An interview with Mac Rogers
What inspired you to write GOD OF OBSIDIAN?
I had been working on sort of a sci-fi stoner comedy before the 2016 election. After the election I found that I had lost my taste for writing an amiable romp and abandoned the play, plunging instead directly into GOD OF OBSIDIAN. It was borderline therapeutic; I felt very strongly that I wanted to work out the very strong emotions I had around ideas of gaslighting, of exploitation, of the end of documentary evidence seeming to have an impact in society anymore. But I also didn't want a straightforward allegory; I wanted to make sure the characters felt real, like someone you might meet.
The play is an interesting mash-up of genres – party fairytale, part psychological thriller – and along the way you explore some important contemporary issues. What sort of research did you do?
I didn't do any clinical research into emotionally abusive relationships. What I did do was go online and read many, many accounts written by people who had in one way or another extracted themselves from gaslighting-based relationships and looked for common factors. One was that nearly all the abusers were remarkably adept at concealing that aspect of their personalities in the early stages of the relationship. Another that I kept seeing over and over was some version of: You can't win against a psychological abuser, you can only leave, with whatever emotional/social/economic costs that entails. If you try for a victorious mic-drop "I'm leaving you" moment, you're just handing them more emotional ammunition to get you to stay. So that was a huge challenge in the writing of the play: how do you build a narrative climax out of a storyline that absolutely must not end in a fist-pumping note of victory?
The Pipeline-Collective production of GOD OF OBSIDIAN is unique in that the role of Natalie was originally written as a male character, Nathan. How do you imagine the play might be read differently, focusing on a story between two women?
Well one thing I should say right off is that Pipeline-Collective's production is only the second one, after my own company's. So I'd argue that rather than a departure, I'd say this production will be part of defining the play. I imagine it will have quite a different resonance. Certainly there are psychologically abusive same-sex relationships. Most of Nathan/Natalie was inspired by various men, but there's bits and pieces of women I've known or read about in the character as well. I imagine the adjusted power dynamic will be fascinating to watch in action, and I'm excited to hear your audience's thoughts. Most particularly, I'm delighted the role is in the hands of Karen Sternberg, a marvelous actor who's done superb work in many plays including my own in the past.
You played Nathan in the original production. Did you consciously write the piece as a vehicle for yourself? What did you learn from playing Nathan that you hadn’t anticipated as you wrote the play?
I originally wrote GOD OF OBSIDIAN as a play for my colleague Becky Comtois and myself to perform at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, an event we really treasure and love to return to. Since I knew I'd be playing Nathan and had no specific expectation that the play would have life beyond our production, I tailored the character to be believable as embodied by me. I drew on some of the ways I know I come off to people - as kind of a goofy big awkward largely harmless guy - and used that as Nathan's disguise, the persona he uses to draw Alice into his life. I figured Nathan's angle was to present himself "the sweet nerdy guy you settle down with after some bad relationships," and then his more genuine self would emerge as Alice - or whoever's in his life - economically and socially loses her ability to leave. It'll be interesting to see how Karen adapts that in her performance, as she fashions her own strategies as Natalie.
The biggest thing I didn't predict is what an audience-interactive play this would be. I usually write plays without clear villains or clearly established audience allegiances for characters. But with GOD OF OBSIDIAN, for the first time, I wrote an unambiguous villain, one people wanted Alice to escape from. In Cincinnati and later in New York, Becky and I were stunned and then buoyed by how obviously – even vocally – the audience wanted Alice to escape. People were yelling instructions at her like it was a horror movie.
Is there any particular reason for the names Alice or Natalie (or Nathan)?
Not with Natalie/Nathan, but the name "Alice" was part-and-parcel with the fairytale elements of the play. When I was writing this play it felt like all the world around me had been pulled into a parallel universe where we'd lost our grip on what was and wasn't true. That made me think of Little Red Riding Hood going into the forest, Hansel and Gretel going into the candy house... and Alice going through the looking-glass.
A glance at your body of work might suggest two through lines: An interest in brining to the stage themes and genres that were once considered too taboo or too gauche for the “legitimate” theatre, and an ability to find hope in unexpected, dark places. How does GOD OF OBSIDIAN relate to some fo your other plays (or podcasts)?
When I write for my company Gideon Productions, I'm conscious of a need to be at least somewhat on brand with our mission-statement to explore social themes through genre. I rarely have ideas for straightforwardly realistic/naturalistic plays, but if I did write one, Gideon might not be its natural home. With this one, as soon as I knew it would have the fairytale "magic-spell" element in it - however metaphorical - I knew it felt like a play for my company. In terms of the element of hope, as I discussed a little earlier, that was a tough one with this play. I was feeling very little hope when I wrote it, and it initially felt like there was no hope in the stories I read of people who had escaped gaslighting relationships. Over and over again there was no justice for the abusers. There was no way to make them suffer for hurting people, or even to possess the self-knowledge that hurting people is in fact what they had done. But when I thought about it more, I thought: the people writing these accounts did get away. They lost time, they lost money, they lost friends, they lost jobs or careers, but they did fight their way free and found a way to start again. That's hope. Sometimes you have to remember that victory isn't when the bad people are punished, but when you find a way to thrive on your own even in the same world they live in.
As a theatremaker, who are some of your creative influences?
The biggies are Wallace Shawn and Caryl Churchill, playwrights who've never stopped wrestling with how the apocalyptic lives alongside - even within - the everyday. The constant question of their plays is "Are you equal to the times you're living in?" But I'd also point to playwright Qui Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker, whose theater company Vampire Cowboys boldly declared that science fiction and horror have a place on stage - even in their most gleefully pulpy forms. They taught me not to apologize for my genre loves.
The Pipeline-Collective production of your play is running in repertory with Johnna Adams’ WORLD BUILERS. Any thoughts about sharing the Nashville stage with your colleague?
Primarily what I feel is intimidation, because I consider Johnna Adams to be a genius. Talking about influences just now, Johnna's ANGEL EATERS, produced in New York by Flux Theatre Ensemble, gave me the courage to write my own HONEYCOMB TRILOGY. But beyond influence, I'm a straight-up Johnna Adams fan-boy. Her LICKSPITTLES, BUTTONHOLERS, AND DAMNED PERNICIOUS GO-BETWEENS is an extraordinary achievement. Her SANS MERCI is so powerful it will ruin your whole week. I saw an early reading of WORLD BUILDERS and thought it was just remarkable. So yeah, I definitely had to swallow a little when I heard I was on a double bill with Johnna.
But also I'm thrilled, because I think the plays – not by design but by result – speak to each other in really interesting ways. Pipeline audiences who see both will have a lot to think and talk about in terms of how much of human bonds are formed by the stories we tell each other. And those stories can be ways in which we are vulnerable and trusting with each other, as in WORLD BUILDERS, or they can be instruments of control, as in GOD OF OBSIDIAN. I think they work splendidly as a double-bill.
What are you working on now? Do you have anything you’d like to promote?
Becky, director Jordana Williams, actor (and friend of Pipeline) Kristen Vaughan and I are about to take another play to the Cincy Fringe Festival, a story about the struggles of a three-person marriage. It will open in Cincinnati on June 2.
Mac Rogers (playwright) is an award-winning playwright based in New York City. His plays include SOVEREIGN (New York Times and Backstage Critic’s Pick), BLAST RADIUS (New York Times Critic’s Pick), ADVANCE MAN (Backstage Critic’s Pick and winner of the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Premiere Production), FRANKENSTEIN UPSTAIRS (featured in the New York Magazine Approval Matrix and nominated for the NYIT Award for Best Premier Production), LIGATURE MARKS (CityBeat Critic’s Pick), ASYMMETRIC (produced by Philadelphia’s acclaimed New City Stage Company), VIRAL (winner of Outstanding Play at FringeNYC 2009 and Best Off-Off Broadway Play from the New York Independent Theater Bloggers), UNIVERSAL ROBOTS (nominated for four New York Innovative Theatre awards and winner of Best Off-Off Broadway Play from the New York Independent Theater Bloggers), HAIL SATAN (Outstanding Playwriting Winner at FringeNYC 2007), and FLEET WEEK: THE MUSICAL (co-written with Sean and Jordana Williams; winner of Outstanding Musical at FringeNYC 2005).
Mac’s plays have earned acclaim from The New York Times, Backstage, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out New York, New York Post, Flavorpill, io9.com (Gawker Media’s science fiction site), Tor.com, Show Business Weekly, New York Press, BroadwayWorld.com, nytheatre.com, ShowShowdown, and many others. Of SOVEREIGN, the concluding installment of Mac’s ambitious HONEYCOMB TRILOGY, Flavorpill writes, “Mac Rogers’ Sovereign is a gripping and satisfying ending to his epic alien invasion tale, The Honeycomb Trilogy, proving that the work as a whole is one of the most intelligent and complex theatrical events of the year.”
As a professional writer, Mac has contributed columns to Slate.com and New York Magazine’s Vulture site. His science fiction short story “Miss Emily’s Voyage” appears on At Length. Mac currently writes online content for a number of global brands in his role as a Copywriter/Producer with the Brooklyn-based community-building and management firm StellarEngine.
Melinda Paul (Alice) is a Nashville-based professional actor and educator. Recent credits include ECLIPSED (Street Theatre Company) and HAMLET (Nashville Shakespeare Festival), as well as radio, audiobook, and podcast voiceovers. She received her BA in Theater Studies from Yale University. GOD OF OBSIDIAN marks her first collaboration with Pipeline-Collective, and she is thrilled to be working on such an important play. Her next appearance will be in Actors Bridge Ensemble and Wild Card Productions’ MARIAN, OR THE TRUE TALE OF ROBIN HOOD as Robin Hood/Maid Marian.
Karen Sternberg (Natalie) last appeared as the White Witch in Studio Tenn’s THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. In Nashville, Karen has performed in THE ELEPHANT MAN (Studio Tenn), HENRY V (Nashville Shakespeare), CONSTELLATIONS and THE GUYS (Pipeline-Collective). New York credits include LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS (Lake Theatre), PLATONOV (Schapiro Theatre), HEDDA GABLER (John Houseman Theatre), CRAZY FOR THE DOG (Jean Cocteau Rep), THE MEMORY OF WATER (Cherry Lane), and KEELY AND DU (Boomerang). She toured in productions of AS YOU LIKE IT and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. Karen lives in Nashville with her husband and their eight-year-old son.
Shawn Whitsell (Director) is an actor, activist, poet, journalist, teaching artist and the Founder/Artistic Director of the Destiny Theatre Experience. He has written, produced and directed a number of theatrical works. He has also worked with Nashville Repertory Theatre, Nashville Children's Theatre, Actor's Bridge Ensemble, Dream 7 Theatre Productions, SistaStyle Productions and Street Theatre Company (where he serves on the Board of Directors). When he's not performing, Shawn visits schools, prisons, libraries and community centers, teaching drama and spoken word for Southern Word, Tennesee Women's Theatre Project and other institutions. Follow him on IG at: @shawn_whitsell and @destinytheatreexperience.
Running in rep with...
This production is being presented under the auspices of the Actors' Equity Association Members' Project Code.