Michele Lowe asks a lot of questions: Why would a man claim his fictional Holocaust memoir was true? Why would a writer say she was a member of the Crips gang when she was really from suburban Los Angeles? Why would Bernard Madoff fleece people and charities of billions of dollars while posing as someone who was helping them with their investments?
Many of us might wonder the same things, but Lowe answers such questions by writing plays.
Her dark comedy, The Smell of the Kill, presented at the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2003, asked what would make three women decide to kill their husbands. String of Pearls, a big hit for Ensemble Theatre in 2006, explored how a piece of jewelry could affect the lives of an array of women. Earlier this year in Denver, I saw the world premiere of her play Inana, which asked what would make the Michele Lowe curator of a Baghdad museum steal a sacred statue from his war-ravaged museum.
Now Cincinnatians get a first look at her latest inquiry with the world premiere of Victoria Musica, opening the Playhouse’s 2009-2010 Shelterhouse season Thursday.
“My favorite thing about writing,” she told me recently, “is to give a character choices and make them decide.
That’s what gets you to the next scene, but it also reveals something from the heart, from the head. How do you keep throwing choices at a character that will make them make a life-and-death decision?”
Victoria Musica is about a world-famous cellist whose death leads a music critic to re-examine her legacy. To his dismay, he comes to suspect that her recordings are frauds. He obsessively digs into her past to solve her puzzle and the motivations behind it.
“In my plays,” Lowe says, “I often look into questions of identity and how characters make choices: How people represent themselves; how they function in a private world; and how they function in a public world. Victoria is very much that way, the public, the private, the dream and the risks people take to protect their dreams.”
Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern staged The Smell of the Kill six years ago for the Playhouse, but he and Lowe didn’t meet until two years ago when he commissioned her to write Victoria Musica for the theater’s 50th anniversary season. He’s directing this one, too.
“Having never worked with him before,” Lowe observes, “it’s uncanny how he could speak so eloquently about my play. He really got it right away.”
Lowe says collaborating with Stern and the Playhouse has been exhilarating: “Ed wants not just to get it right but to make it beautiful. From the moment he read it, he was so positive about my play. That’s a great feeling, all that positive energy.”
Stern has assembled an A-level production team, including award-winning designers Joseph P. Gilford (set) and Thomas C. Hase (lighting).
“When I work on a play,” Lowe says, “I am not aware of an audience until I work on the ending. Then I think of how I want the audience to think and feel on leaving. I never want anything that feels forced or false.”
Audiences watching her new play will be the beneficiaries of Lowe’s thoughtful approach to understanding human behavior through theater. There’s no question about that.
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