New Plays Festival Interview: Gina Stevensen '18 and Max Mondi '18

April 24, 2018

The Playwrights 2018 New Plays Festival consists of the 2018 MFA Playwriting Class Thesis Projects and will run through May 12th in two locations: the Flexible Performance Space at Lenfest Center for the Arts and the Ford Foundation Studio at Pershing Square Signature Center.


Opening this week are Max Mondi’House of Karen and Gina Stevesen’s The Colony. We talked with these playwrights to find out more about their plays and the process of producing.



Tell us about your play. What inspired you?


Max (House of Karen): The play started out as a sequel to Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, in which Firs, a 90-something Russian serf, would work his way through the entirety of 20th century Russian history. Now it's about a 75-year-old retired college administrator living in an Airbnb that used to be her home. Miraculously, it's the same play! 


Gina (The Colony): My play is called The Colony and it's about how our society decides who has value, primarily told through the life of a woman named Carrie Buck. I had been trying to write a play about my family when I found Carrie's story last June, and I knew right away that I had to write a play about it. It's both deeply personal to me and vast in scope. My plays are always about identity, and this play is very much about the identity of America, which feels like something a lot of people (myself included) are questioning right now.



What are the main challenges you have faced in the process of writing and producing your play? 


Max: Balance—figuring out a new play and simultaneously creating a show. Thankfully, we have an incredible cast and team that includes producer Audrey Frischman, director Anne Cecelia Haney, and stage manager Jessica Emmanus whose dedication and talent are making it all happen.  


Gina: This is my first historical play, and so the most challenging and exciting part of the process was in the research and building of the story. I delighted in walking the line between historical accuracy and dramatic possibility, always with the desire to remain truthful to Carrie's story. Because after everything she went through, she deserves that honor. 


What kind of theatre excites you?


Max: I just want to see artists chasing a question with which they are obsessed as honestly as possible. Maybe more simply, whether it's Die Hard or The Seagull, I want to watch human beings desperately trying to do their best.


Gina: My favorite theatre asks really big questions, is filled with meaningful magic, has complex female characters, is totally hilarious, and makes me cry. Ideally, all of those things together.   



Is there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?


Max: House of Karen and probably all future plays are indebted to everyone who has taught me. To David Hwang who showed me how rewriting is the real writing of a play. To Lynn Nottage who taught me how to own my play and about "room tone." To Chuck Mee who taught me to trust my obsessions and impulses. To Blair Singer who showed me that if you know an event in the end of play, you should move it up and find something better to happen after. To Greg Mosher who taught me about "arranging the incidents." To Anne Bogart who taught me that audiences only care about relationships. To Christian Parker who got me thinking about how to visualize space when writing. To Matt Williams who taught me the Three D's. To Jeanine Tesori who showed me how the very first moment of a play needs to embody the whole show. Finally, to Morgan Jenness who showed me that theater is closer to ritual than to entertainment and in whose class I pitched the first iteration of the play. 


House of Karen is a testament to the insanely brilliant and loving faculty at Columbia.  


Gina: Oh wow. This program is truly the best in the country because of our dedicated, groundbreaking faculty. David and Lynn have inspired me over the past three years in so many ways, and helped guide me to really find my artistic voice. I remember after seeing Sweat last year, I was floored by Lynn's ability to write a play that was both totally political and totally relational. That's exactly what I'm trying to do with The Colony.

by Max Mondi
Apr 25, 2:30 PM
Apr 27, 8:00 PM
Apr 28, 2:30 PM

Cities are being destroyed by nature. The internet is completely corrupted. And there’s a civil war no one wants to acknowledge. Do we still not deserve a weekend getaway in an affordable peer-to-peer property rental that’s only 15 minutes from downtown by bus?


by Gina Stevensen
Apr 26, 8:00 PM
Apr 27, 2:30 PM
Apr 28, 7:30 PM

A young woman named Carrie Buck arrives at a mysterious medical facility. Where is her daughter? What is this place? Why is she here? Based on true events surrounding the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck vs. Bell, The Colony explores the xenophobia and reckless patriotism that swept through America nearly a hundred years ago, and the reverberations of this controversial legacy.