By Stephanie Hayes, Arts & Entertainment Editor Tuesday, January 13, 2015
In The Buffalo Kings, a 15-year-old hate crime victim finds healing with his grandfather, who is slipping slowly into Alzheimer's. So when Natalie Symons describes her new play for Freefall Theatre as being partly a comedy, she gets the inevitable question: How? "That's so interesting to me," Symons said. "It's about such dark subject matter. How can it be funny? But my philosophy is we can't know darkness without light. We can't know light without darkness. A lot of the comedy comes out of the pain."
This is the second original play for Symons, 45, whose Lark Eden was produced at New American Theater and Freefall. Symons, also an actor, recently had a role in Freefall's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Her new play about family dynamics pairs Symons with her own family. Her husband, Freefall managing director Jim Sorensen, was the last actor that director Eric Davis cast in The Buffalo Kings. And the role he landed? The ex-husband.
"I wasn't thinking about him when I wrote the role, so it's interesting that Eric put him in the role of the ex-husband," she said. "I share some of (the wife's) neuroses. There are some things about her that are a lot like me."
We caught up with the St. Petersburg writer before her play's debut Saturday to talk comedy, tragedy and moving from page to stage.
Can you describe the tone of the show?
It's a family tragicomedy, which, that word is always strange because it implies two things. It examines a family that is in strife, but trying to cope with regret and guilt and loss, and how in our attempt to sometimes help each other heal, we often fail to understand what those we love really need. It asks questions about responsibility, and what responsibility we owe to family.
What inspired you to write this?
I love family dramas. I saw Long Day's Journey Into Night with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway years ago, and I was just mesmerized by it. … There's something about family life that is so universal. I think audiences automatically project their own family onto the play. There are so many points of entry, whether you're coming at it from the 15-year-old boy standpoint of someone who's been bullied, or a mother who tries to help her father.
What is it like to see your words transition to the stage?
It has been amazing. All I can say is it's rewrites and readings and rewrites and readings. The more you can do the better. Audiences feel like plays just miraculously jump off the page and land on the stage, and it's not like that. I think people don't understand that every play we've ever seen was new at one point, and it needed a theater to believe in it. A theater that had the belief and courage and the patience to envision a brand new, never before seen work. (Freefall artistic director) Eric believed in this piece, and he put in his time and resources. We're so lucky to have that here in Tampa Bay. We sort of take it for granted. It's part of Eric's mission, to develop new work, sort of like Steppenwolf does in Chicago. To invest in the artist and cultivate new work. And that's so important in the theater.