After winning the award for Best Drama at the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival this summer, playwright Stephen Spotswood’s “We Tiresias” returns for a stint at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring.
After just five performances at Fringe this summer, Forum Theatre, a resident theater at Round House Silver Spring, will present “We Tiresias,” opening Jan. 3.
“[It’s] a story that needed to be told,” says actress Melissa Hmelnicky. “It needed to go up.”
“We Tiresias” was originally commissioned from Washington College in 2009. The university, located on the Eastern Shore, wanted a new play to break in a new black box theater on campus. Spotswood, who at the time was pursuing a master’s of fine arts at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., had attended Washington as an undergraduate, and submitted “We Tiresias” for consideration.
Though his play was chosen to christen his alma mater’s new theater, Spotswood says he never actually saw the show at Washington College thanks to the blizzard that pummeled the region that winter.
“They ended up doing the reading the same weekend as the snowstorm,” says Spotswood. “I never got to see it because of the snowstorm.”
But three years later, Spotswood got another chance to see a reading of his work, this time as a part of The Kennedy Center Page to Page Festival.
It was there that Hmelnicky says she was first introduced to the play.
“I got involved when we did the stage reading [at The Kennedy Center],” says Hmelnicky. “I immediately fell in love with it.”
Hmelnicky, along with two other actors, plays Tiresias at different stages of his life.
According to Greek mythology, Hera, wife and sister to Zeus, cursed Tiresias to live as a woman. Spotswood’s show portrays Tiresias as a young boy, a woman and as an old blind man. Hmelnicky plays the part of Tiresias during his time as a woman.
“The actual myth is that Tiresias is walking and came along two snakes having sex,” explains Spotswood. “[He] kicked them and Hera curses him to live as a woman.”
Unimpressed with the original storyline, Spotswood decided to create his own, using two critical pieces of information about Tiresias: his life as both male and female, and his ability to see the past and the future.
“It’s so boring. It’s a terrible tale,” says Spotswood of the original myth. “I took those two details and created an entirely fictional story.”
In Spotswood’s version, Tiresias has an affair with Hera, a decision that affects the course of the rest of his life.
“He does something selfish and dumb that follows and haunts him and hurts people he is nearest to,” says Spotswood. “It follows and haunts him for the rest of his life. He becomes defined by one stupid mistake. I believe it’s a very relatable thing.”
“It’s a darkly optimistic tale,” adds Hmelnicky. “The message of this play and this story is that there is always hope ... even when you’re blinded by the darkness, there is always hope.”
Hmelnicky met Spotswood while she was studying drama as an undergraduate at Catholic University. She says she was thrilled when in March, Spotswood asked her to be in the show at Fringe.
“I was waiting for that,” says Hmelnicky. “Whether I was going to be a part of it or be an audience member, I was looking forward to this show being produced.”
Spotswood, who is a member of the Forum Theatre artists ensemble, says he thought staging “We Tiresias” would help further Forum’s mission of providing a space where artists can gather and explore a better ways of living through storytelling.
“Stephen is a storyteller,” says Hmelnicky. “To come to a script that’s able to be dark and beautiful and funny and colorful is a real treat.”