To playwright Zayd Dohrn, it's all about the family
By TOM CHESEK • Correspondent •
February 13, 2009
As Zayd Dohrn has explained it, he's always been "more about art than
activism," having never been under any particular pressure from his
parents to inject political themes into his writings.
All well and fine, and only anything of a surprise when you consider
his parents, the academics Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers.
Yeah that Bill Ayers. The man who became a human talking point on a
hundred thousand pundit-casts; an issue unto himself (as was the
Reverend Wright) in the campaign against Barack Obama, and still
likely a blood-boiler for those who can remember back as far as last Labor Day.
When the inevitable elephant-in-the-living-room topic is introduced
to the conversation, Dohrn (whose first name was inspired by murdered
Black Panther Zayd Shakur) offers that he and his dad "have different
priorities, different outlooks."
"I don't know that I ever try to keep up with him," the younger Dohrn
says of Ayers, who's just announced his first foray into the medium
of the graphic novel. "It's hard enough to keep up with all the media
craziness surrounding him."
Dohrn, who lived under assumed identities with his parents in the
days when they were both wanted members of the Weather Underground
organization, has staked out a more traditional family-man existence
for himself, his wife and two young kids or at least as traditional
as can be when Mom's a tremendously popular TV star in China.
It was while residing in Beijing that Dohrn (who teaches these days
at Columbia University and The Juilliard School) penned the first
draft of his play "Sick," a dark comedy that opens this weekend at
New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, as part of a National
New Play Network "rolling premiere" event.
The family unit figures prominently in "Sick" specifically the
Krebs family, an insular clan whose members are obsessed with germs
and cleanliness, to the point of living in isolation within a
plastic-sheeted, air-purified environment.
Naturally, the introduction of an outsider (a gentleman caller named
Jim, in a nod to "The Glass Menagerie") initiates a set of
complications both comic and otherwise.
Benjamin Klein directs a cast of NJ Rep newcomers that includes
Meredith Napolitano, Rusty Ross, Kevin Sebastian and Jim Shankman
and, as the family matriarch, the stock company regular Liz Zazzi,
star of such memorable Rep productions as "Women Who Steal" and "The
Girl with the High Rouge."
"Liz is truly amazing," Dohrn says of the actress who very recently
played Venus in the musical "Cupid and Psyche" at NJ Rep. "The play
rises and falls on that role, and she grounds it in a nice reality."
While the play was written during the height of the SARS epidemic in
Asia, the author allows that the feared germs and impurities could be
seen as stand-ins for the introduction of troublesome and unwanted
ideas into the household; "the explicit notion that you can protect
yourself from upsetting trends in the popular culture."
The playwright, whose other full-length works include "Haymarket" (a
historical piece on the 1886 Chicago bombing that invites parallels
to the 1970 incident that sent his parents into hiding) and the
hippie commune-revisited piece "Magic Forest Farm," sees these days
as "scary times for the arts" an interlude in which many
established theaters, seldom on solid ground even in the best of
times, are in danger of losing their traditional subscriber base.
"From the creative side, it's important to do shows for younger
crowds, but you have to trust in your audience overall," he maintains.
"As long as there are those still making theater and making it well,
taking those risks, people will respond to it."