Silver Spring Stage Opens “Abdication!”: An Interview With Director Yvonne Paretzky

Abdication! opens at the Silver Spring Stage on Friday, January 26, and runs through February 11. Incorporating song, dance, and video, the play is about people making frightening choices and facing impossible odds in a dystopian techno-future. While the technology in the play isn’t a reality yet, the questions it raises are firmly relevant today. In this Q&A, Director Yvonne Paretzky explains how the characters are trapped by fear, loneliness, and exclusion, but why each there’s hope if we respond with determination.

What drew you to this play? 

I was fascinated by the idea that we are sinking fast as a culture and society, and we’re probably already past the tipping point. Though most of us might not want to recognize that, playwright Naya James Sonnad actually said it—and in a way that made me laugh.

The play is funny. But the humor seems to be a hook to get you engaged before it turns serious and bleak.

That’s what makes it great. I believe that whatever stories get told, they should have a meaning. They should have a lesson that can make the world better. You need to be entertained in order to get it, but it shouldn’t just be entertainment.

Is technology driving society towards the tipping point you referred to?  

One of the themes in the play—and I believe this myself—is that technology will be the end of civilization. It does things that you can’t figure out, you can’t respond effectively to. Technology drives the way we have structured our societal and personal lives; it’s as if we think this is how it should be.

The play has three acts, and in each one it seems the characters consider using technology to escape their lives, even though technology is controlling our lives.

Naya is telling us how hard it is to push against controlling forces in society. In Act One, Tommy says I’m expected to have certain types of jobs, date a certain person, and I’m no good at it. He’s been put in cubbyholes by his parents and society. In Act Two, The Love Lobotomy, when Joe asks Mara to go for coffee, she says let me think about it; she knows what’s going to happen, and so do we. And in Act Three, Color Scheme, we see that people are put in boxes that determine how we are going to turn out—and if we fight against it, we are dismissed or worse. Mara’s experience is a gut-punch, and she delivers it beautifully.

Those are disturbing ideas, but do you think the play has more positive notes as well?

At the end, the message is that we have to fight or give up. That’s what makes this play so interesting. It’s very intelligent and has so many layers. In fact, the original ending was darker, and I spoke with Naya about that. She said, “I just happen to have an alternative ending,” and that’s what we have here.

Abdication! was onstage with professional actors (and a different director) in New York City when Covid hit in 2020. How does your production at a community theater open up new opportunities?

The original production doubled up many characters from one act to another, but we have different people in every role. I love the diversity of our cast. Look at the family in Act One, which is Italian-American and being portrayed as interracial. My family looks like that, and you can’t tell whose kid is whose anymore. I cast it like that intentionally because this is us today.

Photo: Valet 2 (Patrick Cochran), Narrator (Maureen Freshour), and Valet 1 (Christopher Farrar). Photo by Hart Wood.

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