Recently I had the opportunity to interview Rowen Haigh Mahoney, director of upcoming play Thunderbodies by Kate Tarker, opening August 25 at Burning Coal in Raleigh. Thunderbodies is an absurdist war satire that exposes and comments upon the underbelly of modern warfare and marriage (while also highlighting the many parallels between the two institutions). It is a scathing and hilarious indictment of our perceived need to dominate and win, as well as a celebration of those rare moments when we are able to meet others on common ground. Get your tickets now and check out what Mahoney has to say about Thunderbodies and the Women's Theatre Festival.
Synopsis: The war is finally over. General Michail proposes to Grotilde—so she skips ahead and plans the inevitable, but festive, divorce. Meanwhile, the weather is playing tricks on people, as is The President and Grotilde's son won't accept the armistice. In this comedy of no manners, everyone is normible (both normal and terrible all at once).
What show are you working on? And in what capacity? What drew you to this particular show?
I am directing THUNDERBODIES. I know the show because I know the playwright—we went to undergrad together at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. A few months ago I saw that she had gotten a residency at the Wilma Theater in Philly, which is my favorite theatre in that city (I lived there for five years after undergrad and Assistant Directed several productions there). When I saw that Kate (Tarker) was working there too, it prompted me to reach out, see how she was doing, and see what she was working on. Her agent sent me THUNDERBODIES, and I loved it. It’s lyrical and silly and serious and weird. It has the quality I always look for in plays—a sense of space. I respond best to work that is written with a clear voice and vision, but that doesn’t try to dictate every moment, interpretation, or choice. Kate writes with a sense of possibility, and an understanding that her work will be taken on by other artists in other times and other places than the time and place in which she wrote it. As a director, that’s the best feeling—having the sense that the playwright wants you to play with what they’ve created.
How long have you been involved with theater? What role do you generally find yourself in? Is this your first time in the role of director?
I was born into a theatre family, so I’ve been involved in theatre for all of my 32 years. I’ve tried pretty much every role, but directing is my favorite. I like the challenge of keeping the various threads (onstage, backstage, creative, logistical, technical, practical, etc.) pulling together to create a specific vision and experience.
What does the women’s theatre festival mean to you?
The women’s theatre festival is a chance for women (and allies) in the theatre to express some of the things that have been stewing in our minds and our hearts but that we’ve sometimes been hesitant to voice: we feel under appreciated. We feel unheard. We feel under represented. We have talent, skill, vision, and drive, and we want to let it out, unapologetically, unabashedly, and with incredible joy.
In a synchronous way, I feel like I’ve heard a chorus of women and allies stepping forward about how women are treated, portrayed, and represented in a myriad of different spheres since WTF has launched. With the Olympics, for example, a lot of what I’m seeing on social media has to do with how screwed up much of the commentary regarding female athletes is—there’s an unnecessary focus on their looks, theirs spouses, and their coaches rather than on their achievements or performance. I hate that that’s an issue, but I also feel hopeful that this conversation is happening, and that it’s happening at the same time WTF is launching. I feel like WTF is in the middle of a much larger wellspring of change that is bringing issues of gender parity into the light.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Putting WTF on has been a huge undertaking. I am so impressed with the drive and passion that the women in this community have exhibited, particularly one Ashley Popio. It’s not that hard to get people excited about a big idea, but it IS hard to keep them excited, dedicated, and involved. While people often want to support and be a part of projects like WTF, actually doing it in the face of daily life, work, family, etc., is incredibly hard. However, the passion that Ashley has injected into this project has, I think, served to energize everyone around her.
In a similar vein, I will say that the bravery in WTF is mind blowing. I think everyone involved is doing something outside of their comfort zone, somewhere along the way. I think we’re able to do that because we feel so supported. We know that we are part of a community who will applaud our efforts, appreciate our work, and help us become better artists. That’s a special moment to be a part of.