Meet the Playwright: Mariah MacCarthy

On Thursday, April 19, The Foreplay Play — the newest play from rising star playwright Mariah MacCarthy — will begin performances in a site-specific location (an apartment in Brooklyn). (Check out Mariah’s company’s website for details.)

I’m excited and pleased to announce that The Foreplay Play will be published on Indie Theater Now this week — concurrently with its world premiere. (As I say, that puts the NOW in Indie Theater Now.)

The play is about what happens when a straight couple goes to visit a lesbian couple for a planned foursome. I asked Mariah some questions about herself and her play; here’s our cyber-conversation:

ME:  This play and the other one we have published on Indie Theater Now are both very specifically concerned with sex and sexuality. Why is this a theme that you come back to in your work?

MARIAH: With The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret (available on Indie Theater Now, now!), I was looking at how we express–and f*ck–our gender in pursuing/having sex. In the context of the show, that might mean coming to terms with the fact that you are in love with someone who is neither male nor female, or it might mean turning down the drunk girl kissing you, even though you’re a virgin and she’s gorgeous. These interactions, which all revolve around sex, challenge the characters’ most basic concepts of their own identities (am I still a lesbian if I want someone who’s not a woman? still masculine if I turn down sex? etc.)

The Foreplay Play is relatively simple in comparison: a straight couple and a lesbian couple have decided to have a foursome. Rather than grappling with their gender identities, these characters are holding onto their relationships for dear life. In Genderf*ck, sex is a catalyst for self-discovery; in  The Foreplay Play, it’s a weapon. Kisses are used to seduce, yes, but also to establish power, to put people in their place, to sabotage someone else’s relationship or sense of security.

I wrote a little manifesto about my tendency to write about sex a year and a half ago, and it applies pretty well to both Genderf*ck and  The Foreplay Play:

  • I write about sex because when you write about sex, you’re writing about vulnerability. You’re writing about power. You’re writing about people at their most joyful and most anguished. Writing about sex creates the conflict for you: the fear that the sex, and therefore the accompanying comfort or joy or love or acceptance or distraction, will go away. Or the fear that it may never come.
  • I write about sex because it is nearly universal. Because most people who will see or read my plays will have had, wanted, and/or thought about some form of sex, perhaps extensively.
  • I write about sex because it is so funny, yet we take it life-and-death seriously.
  • I write about sex because whenever sex becomes a possibility, so does heartbreak.
  • I write about sex, but I rarely write sex. Sex isn’t sexy enough; the wanting of it, the pursuit of it, the leading up to it, is infinitely more interesting to me. (Thus, “The Foreplay Play,” not “The Foursome Play.”)
  • I know that writing about sex hardly makes me unique, but I also know that I write about sex in a different way than, say, Adam Rapp, or Sarah Kane, or Pinter. I write about sex as a goofy twentysomething feminist/gender activist woman who places a high value on playfulness and compassion.
  • Mostly, I write about sex because it’s awesome.

ME:  The Foreplay Play is being produced site-specifically in an apartment. Is this something that you decided you wanted to do from the very beginning with this play, and if so, why did you make that choice?

MARIAH: This play actually started as a 20-minute play, which was presented in two different theater spaces last year. When I wrote that first version, I had never thought to do it site-specifically. But then a little thing known as Daniel Talbott happened to me. Daniel directs an amazing site-specific directing class at ESPA, where I have taken classes for years and whose praises I will sing from any rooftop. A director in his class last summer, Ashley Marinaccio, asked if she could direct a scene from my musical Ampersand in Central Park, which of course I agreed to. Watching that scene opened up my brain. I started thinking, “Whoa. You could do the whole show site-specifically. In fact I could do ALL my shows site-specifically!”

I’d already been thinking of expanding The Foreplay Play into a full-length, and when I did, it was with the thought of doing it in an actual apartment. I thought that for this play especially, the intimacy of that experience would feel deliciously voyeuristic and uncomfortable. Also, since I’m producing the play via my company, Caps Lock Theatre, it’s a lot cheaper to say to someone, “Hey, can we do a play in your apartment and split the box office with you?” than to rent a “traditional” theater space. Not having to build a set is also fantastic; the apartment we’re using already has such charm that we’ve had to change very little about it for our purposes.

The space has also presented some obstacles. For whatever reason, watching a play in an actual apartment makes everything feel more casual, and you have to fight harder to maintain the tension. And when you’re that up close and personal, you have to be VERY clever about the things you “fudge.” There are things that have to be consumed and broken every night, which is a challenge. But it’s also wonderful, to have to commit to making everything about this show as real as possible–almost hyper-real.

ME: Could the play be performed in a traditional theater space? What do you think would be different about that kind of presentation?

MARIAH: You could certainly do it in a traditional theater space, and I hope that people do. The play still works without the sorta-creepy, voyeuristic intimacy that a real apartment provides. But I also hope that it inspires people to think more creatively about how–and where–they make their art.

ME: Mariah, can you talk a little bit about how you write your plays: Do you write them out longhand, or on a computer? Do you write every day? Do you lock yourself in a room and write alone, or do you need people around you to stimulate your process?


1. Put yourself in a situation where people will be annoyed at you for NOT writing. Take a class, or set a date for a reading.

2. Procrastinate like hell.

3. Beat yourself up for procrastinating like hell.

4. Accidentally finish the play when you thought you still had a long ways to go.

5. Feel shocked.

Actually, that’s how this play was born. One of the actors, Nic Grelli, was in a show in San Francisco in the fall. I said, “OK, we’re having a reading of The Foreplay Play as soon as you get back,” and set a date. The play was not yet written when I set the date, but it was by the date of the reading. My creative process very badly needs other people. At least half the reason I do theater is to hang out with people. It’s very hard to motivate myself if no one else is involved.

ME: We’re publishing The Foreplay Play on Indie Theater Now at the same time as the play opens. Should people see the play first, read it first, or does it matter?

MARIAH: My gut says, see it first! There are so many crazy, surprising moments. Let yourself be swept up by that first. Then go back and connect the dots by reading it.

Though I think you could also have a richer, more informed experience by reading it first. This play is certainly more delightful and explosive on its feet than I knew it was on paper, and I think it could be very fulfilling to experience it in a quieter, more private way first.

Either way, just come see it. And read it. Both. In whatever order feels right.

(January 22, 2013)