What attracted you to Mysterious Skin - had you read the novel?
I read an interview that novelist Scott Heim did when the book first came out in the mid-nineties, and I was intrigued that UFOs and alien abduction were a jumping off point for the narrative. My work tends to have some kind of supernatural or paranormal or fantastical component, so I was drawn to the material. I read the book and loved it, even though I’m notorious for not reading novels. I prefer long-form nonfiction, particularly true-crime books, showbiz exposés, and self-help literature. (Seriously.)
Why did you think it would make a good play?
I had no idea if it would work as a play or not. But I connected so deeply with the novel that I decided to go for it, especially after the commissioning theater (New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco, California) expressed such enthusiasm over the idea of an adaptation.
Did you have to make any changes in adapting it for the stage?
Yes. A lot. I opted not to follow the novel’s chronological structure, so the first third of the book is condensed down to a handful of precisely chosen flashbacks that are scattered throughout Act One.
Did you speak to Scott Heim first, or did you go ahead on your own?
I had a few awkward conversations with him (we both dislike speaking on the phone), but he basically gave me free reign to adapt the novel as I wished. His primary concern was that the novel’s emotional truth remain intact.
The play has had some great notices in San Francisco amongst others. How do you think it will translate to a UK audience?
It’s gotten some great notices in the UK too, from another producing team, so I know it translates well. While the novel has a vivid sense of place (rural Kansas and urban New York), the core story transcends location. You could imagine this story happening anywhere, really.
What do you like about the two lead characters?
I was struck by how each character dealt with disturbing childhood events so differently. One repressed his memories and created false memories in their place, and the other over-idealised the memories. Neither, however, escaped being deeply affected.
Stories like this are rarely seen or told on stage. What do you hope audiences get from the play?
There’s a scene in the play in which Neil is trying to tell his best friend Wendy a disturbing story. She’s resistant to hearing it because it’s so uncomfortable. He says, “I just need to tell you this. Like, I don’t know, like I have to say it out loud in order to get rid of it or something.” I’m intrigued by the idea of storytelling as a means of exorcising psychological demons.
The film and novel are quite edgy. Does that tone remain with the stage version?
Yes, I think the play is edgy too. It’s designed to make people intellectually, emotionally, and even physically uncomfortable.
You have written theatre for schools. Why do you think this is important?
I think theatre in general is an effective tool for expanding people’s understanding of the world we live in. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily an effective tool for social change. But theatre for schools is different. Plays for youth have quantifiable results—it can literally change behavior.
What was the last thing you saw on stage and loved?
Last week I saw the Center Theatre Group production of Jennifer Haley’s The Netherat the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Southern California, and it blew me away. The play, which is set in a future where the Internet has transformed into a tactile alternate reality, is thrilling on so many levels - narratively, intellectually, theatrically. It’s a play of ideas that manages to be innovative as a piece of contemporary theatre.
Is there anything you are still itching to see?
I’m excited about seeing the Cyndi Lauper musical, Kinky Boots, on Broadway. I mean, who isn’t?!
Mysterious Skin is being staged in a fringe venue in Manchester. Why do you feel the independent scene is so vital?
Mainstream theatres, at least in America, face certain limitations in terms of what they can stage. The business end of things dictate what has a chance of being successful and what would die a horrible death. That’s not a criticism. That’s just the way things work. Smaller theatres can take more chances because potential rewards outweigh the risks.
What are you working on at the moment?
My two-man storytelling/music hybrid group, Jukebox Stories, is about to open its third full-length show (Jukebox Stories: The Secrets of Forking) at Impact Theatre in Berkeley, California.
Can you state in four words why people should see Mysterious Skin?
It’s theatre that lingers.
Prince Gomolvilas was speaking to Glenn Meads
Mysterious Skin is at The Three Minute Theatre, Manchester from 21 - 25 May.