Friday, December 17, 2004
A conversation with
Ping Chong and Michael Rohd
Editor's note: This article was published Nov. 25.
Ping Chong and Michael Rohd are returning to Blacksburg for 17 days to create the world premiere of "God Favors the Predator," which opens Dec. 2 at Virginia Tech.
Chong, an internationally acclaimed playwright and theater director, has brought more than 50 works to the stage since 1972. Rohd, who received a master's degree in theater arts from Tech and now serves as the founding artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre in Portland, Ore., started working with Chong to bring "American Gothic" - the duo's first collaboration — to Tech five years ago.
Fresh off the plane, Chong and Rohd recently shared some thoughts on the origins, aesthetics, themes and political implications of their project.
How long have you been working together?
Michael Rohd: We met in the summer of '97 or '98 . . . This is the seventh or eighth project we've worked on together.
The script was co-written by both of you, right? And you had used part the script before?
Ping Chong: As a short piece. The last part of the show is actually an existing piece that was made as a free-standing piece by itself . . . So
Michael wrote Act 2 and I wrote Act 1, so we worked backwards . . . off the last piece.
MR: Thematically, since it's clearly not a narrative.
PC: It's linked by the fact that all three stories are related to a common theme, rather than it's one story in three acts.
MR: This is the first time we've done something together where we have written separately and then come together.
PC: He wrote his in Portland, and I wrote the first part in New York.What are the major themes of the play?
PC: Each piece has a different form.
MR: Very different style-wise . . . This is an interesting time as an artist to be writing . . . We have a strong interest - both of us - in issues of power, and in issues of relationships between individual and community and nation.
PC: Power and powerlessness.
MR: And predation, of course - the show's title. Predation became a theme we talked about a lot.
PC: And in a way it's kind of a horror story of the 20th century. That's how I see it. The last piece, when it was written, was really a piece about the horrors of the century. The only thing that's not in it is the atom bomb. The way we're designing it, it's in the form of a nightmare, a surrealistic nightmare . . . I think the first two pieces are in a way about America's relationship to the rest of the world. And then the third piece is much more global . . . The first two pieces sort of sit inside the third piece in a way, because America's only one country on the globe, and what the third piece is about is a much larger context, so it's kind of a telescoping.
And that's how you wrote it, working backwards out of the third piece, so the theme of "America in relation to the world" literally grew out of the world.
PC: The world, yes.
What's the look of the play, visually?
MR: The stage is white. It's a white floor, and the only set is a table and five stools and a bench.
PC: All white.
MR: It's a very clean, stark look in a way, but then gets messed with, color-wise.
PC: Each act has a different color scheme . . . everything is designed white or black, except for a moment at the end which is a surprise.
How do you think the play will be received?
MR: You said it's kind of risque and that it will be interesting to do a piece like this here - and I think it will be. And I think Act 2 will be tricky, particularly in a community that has a large corps of cadets, that has a large military presence, to ask questions about dissent and the role of the military in modern culture and the relationship between state and government and justification for choices we make nationally in policies.
PC: The moment that we live in now is a nightmare . . . There was a moment where people felt that the world was stable to some extent — our world, I should say. The world has never been stable. But everywhere, nothing is stable anymore. You don't know when a bomb's gonna go off anywhere.
MR: And in a time of instability, how do those in power use fear and potentially faith to gather their power around themselves, and issue edicts and lead? And we are responsible for letting them achieve that, if we do not ask questions.
What do you hope to accomplish with the play?
PC: It's trying to get the audience to respond, to activate themselves . . . It's not an easy play because it's not spelled out.
MR: For me, I would love it if people see this piece and have conversations about the issues within it. Don't feel preached at, shouted at or told what to think, but feel tickled into a good conversation about their own thoughts on these issues instead of just assuming and accepting, which I think all of us, myself included, often do.