MAGIC TRICK at Theatre Row
An Interview with Mariah MacCarthy

Indie Theater Now asked Mariah MacCarthy a few questions about her play Magic Trick.

What’s this play about (in a few sentences); and what particular current issues are you addressing in it?

It's about a beautiful, tough young woman who happens to be paraplegic, Bana, who leaves her boyfriend in the middle of the night and becomes a burlesque dancer. Lots of depictions of disability make the disabled into "inspirational" Oscar-bait-type stories. Or if it's a sci-fi story, then they're zealously trying to figure out a way to not be disabled anymore, often with disastrous results. I wanted to avoid all that, to write a story with a disabled character that wasn't "About Disability." And I wanted a woman in a wheelchair to be an object of desire, because I had literally never seen that before when I started working on this play. Bana is not a role model. She lies, hurts people, and flies off the handle sometimes. But the things about her story that I find inspirational - learning to love yourself, learning to be alone, embracing and trusting yourself as an artist - are things that are not at all specific to her being disabled. And that's intentional. (Side note: checking my privilege here and acknowledging that I am an able-bodied woman who gets it wrong sometimes even when she tries to do her homework.)

Why is this issue/these issues important to you? Why should it be important to the audience?

Well, nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have disabilities, so why are they depicted so rarely - and so poorly - onstage? And why is New York City still so unbelievably wheelchair-inaccessible? Imagine if there was a theater venue where queer people or Asian people couldn't go. That'd be ludicrous, right? But there are tons of inaccessible venues. It's usually not the venues' faults - they're scraping by, trying to do battle with real estate vampires, and becoming accessible is expensive. But why isn't this more of a priority for the city? The inaccessibility of New York, and the lack of roles for disabled people, add up to a pretty discouraging picture. The number of local disabled actresses who could play a role like Bana is literally in the single digits - we're counting on one hand here. And that's according to people whose job it is to know these things and cast those actors, who are in some cases disabled themselves. And I don't know those stats for burlesque, but I generally don't see a performer like Bana when I go to a burlesque show - and when I look at that burlesque stage, it's generally not accessible. All that said, this play is not an explicit call to arms. It's a depiction of one flawed young woman, who's falling in and out of love and basically just doing the Being Human thing. When we last did the show, at the 2012 Fringe Festival, people related to her, and hard, and that's what I want. I think empathy can be one of the most effective calls to arms. I've read about studies demonstrating that statistics roll off of people but that individual stories galvanize, which doesn't surprise me at all.

Can a play actually bring about social change? How?

Yes! Yes! They can and they do. I've gotten well-meaning men, men who would probably call themselves feminists but wouldn't necessarily think too much about how to make the world better for women in their daily lives, to think long and hard about consent by writing about date rape. To consider how they might be implicated in that. That's huge. Diana Oh fired up the world against sexism with {my lingerie play}. I participated with her in one of the installations in Union Square, and the questions people asked us were so important. One man didn't know what catcalling was, or why it would be unpleasant for a woman. Parents were explaining the words on our signs to their children, getting the children to stand with us. People were thinking and learning. That's social change. And I really don't think the world would have paid the same attention to the atrocities of labor conditions in China without Mike Daisey's THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS. I'm a God damn optimist about this. We DO change the world. The small changes lead to big changes.

If you could get one real person (past or present) to be the spokesperson for your play, who would you choose and why; and what would you want them to tell people about your work?

Mat Fraser. I'd want him to think I was a badass motherfucker. Mat, if you're reading this, tickets for you and Julie are on the house. I'd love to have you there.

Which is more important to you in your playwriting, and why: to tell an authentic story, to make the audience laugh, to make the audience cry, or to make the audience think?

Authentic story, all the way. The tears, laughs, and thoughtfulness will follow if you tell complicated stories authentically.

posted August 17, 2015