The play is such a great portrayal of 21st century Judaism, and it’s fairly common these days for someone to identify as both Jewish, and an atheist. Do you think the play offers a way for Jewish atheists to approach spirituality? Did you have that particular audience in mind?
I really just wanted to write a play about human morality. When I wrote the play, I wasn’t thinking of a particularly Jewish audience. But the JPP has made me realize how large of an influence my upbringing in Judaism had on the play. Discussions of faith were huge in my house. These were big “what are the kids going to be?” type discussions, not just conversations couched in intellectual concepts.
The play offers very interesting philosophies about God. Did you create these philosophies, or did you draw on things you’ve pick up over time? Are these your own views?
I’m afraid to say it’s all me, because I might have picked up some of it somewhere without realizing it! But I didn’t do a lot of research in that regard. A lot of it is my own take. I even Skyped recently with the OPEN Festival cast, and they were asking me about the Jewish influence, asking if I drew from this particular Biblical or Talmud thing, or sometimes people ask me I drew from a certain Buddhist thing. I wish I could say I’ve done all this research, but it’s borne more from this idea of, how would a conversation with God really exist today? If God talked to us today how would that make a difference? I get hung up a lot on religious views that say we deserve something, and this idea that God forgives us all the time. The idea that we’re not accountable to one another, just to God, doesn’t square with me. The idea that we can pray for something instead of taking action ourselves, and not take accountability for our actions, bothers me. And I’m not even necessarily advocating there is a God. So it’s all the “Tao of Helen” I guess!
You have a lot of fun humanizing God in the play. How did this approach to God come about?
She’s a best friend to the main character, Sadie, so it makes sense that they have a lot in common. I wanted to give God a conversational tonality, and I wanted to counter the idea of God being omnipotent. I wanted to let God off the hook a little bit, to show that the idea that God can fix things with a thunderbolt, like miracles are sometimes thought of being, is not necessarily true.
The play is very funny, but it’s also very poignant, especially toward the end. Do you think it gives the poignancy more power because it’s balanced with humor?
What I love, not only as a writer, but as a theatre-maker in general, is comedy. I don’t think people do enough good comedy. I see this acerbic take toward comedy all the time, the idea that acid is needed to make people laugh. If we laugh together as an audience, then we will confront the dark truths with more honesty. We have a better time expecting the truth when we’ve first laughed together. I love seeing people leaving a theatre wanting to be better, to do better, and wanting more. We want more, as an audience, when something in us has been uplifted. I want people to walk away not just thinking about the play, but “feeling” about the play.