Mariah MacCarthy. Totally awesome. Writing her plays. Doing her thing. Making the world a better place. Just closed a show in an apartment. Wrote a new play already like a boss. BOOM.
#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.
NATALIE W. I saw your recent “Pussyfest” production of monologues written by and for people who identify as women. You clearly have a great eye/ear for talent, as it was a remarkable collection of writers. What are the qualities you look for in a good writer?
MARIAH M. To clarify: Anyone of any gender can write for Pussyfest! And I think we’re going to make it more trans-inclusive in the future, to include transmasculine or genderqueer performers as well. Anyway, just about all the writers involved with that evening have something exceptional about their work. Either they’re writing from a unique perspective that we rarely see onstage, or they’re a special kind of gutsy, or they have a unique sense of humor, or whatever. I also look for heart. I think something else that made Pussyfest special was, all those monologues were written specifically for those performers. Many of these writers didn’t know their actor before they were (randomly) paired up together. I think writing for a specific performer made the work stronger, braver, more specific, more physical, more more more.
By the way, you and Brandon clearly have amazing taste too, because these writers? Damn. I love our LRR crew so hard.
NATALIE W. I believe it was Caryl Churchill who said all her plays are ultimately about a trapped girl. I know I almost always end up writing about how much to sacrifice for something/someone you love. What do you find yourself always writing about?
MARIAH M. Someone who wants someone who’s bad for them.
NATALIE W. In the plays of yours I’ve heard, you seem to have a knack for writing distasteful characters who are nonetheless incredibly compelling and interesting. Is this something you consciously set out to do? Any tricks for how you achieve that?
MARIAH M. Haha! I love the word “distasteful.” Like they’re telling poop jokes at Thanksgiving dinner or something. I do find it rewarding and delicious to write characters who are flawed and destructive, but I almost never set out to write a “villain”–or a “good guy,” for that matter I don’t have much interest in clear lines of allegiance. Contradiction is fun! Give a character a point of view you find abhorrent, and then argue their case as convincingly as possible. Take the character you’d think of as most likely to be bullied, and make them the bully. Have the nicest person in the room say something horribly hurtful.
But it all has to be motivated, too. I’ve discovered that even my most despicable characters, for the most part, want to be good. They’re trying to navigate their own desires and selfishness and what they think the “right” thing is, and they’re all falling short, but none of them are heartless. I have tremendous love and compassion for all my characters–and the more complicated they are, the more they break my heart.
NATALIE W. What is your favorite food, and how might it appear in a future play? (or has it already??)
MARIAH M. I have a lot of favorites! Food actually ends up in my plays a LOT. A major scene in The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret revolves around peanut butter banana sandwiches (which I actually don’t eat too much). There’s pasta in The Foreplay Play, and chili in Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion. I think maybe my favorite food is ice cream, which also showed up in Genderf*ck–the last scene involves one character asking another out to ice cream. We wanted to do a food fight in Mrs. Mayfield, but since we were doing it in an actual apartment, it seemed like it would be unfair to the apartment dwellers.
NATALIE W. You’re also a producer with your own theater company, CAPS LOCK THEATRE. What has been A) the most frustrating experience running your own company and B) the most rewarding experience?
MARIAH M. Probably the most frustrating thing is that there’s always more money to raise, especially when you want to pay people any more than the bare minimum. There are fun ways to raise money, I prefer to make fundraising a party whenever possible, but it’s still a slog because it just never, ever ends. But the most rewarding thing is that the work I want to see goes up. So far it’s mostly been my own plays, but that’s about to change–next season will be our biggest production yet, of Sarah Shaefer’s The Gin Baby. The very best part of any process, for me, is opening night, when a production is UP and you’re watching people watch the show and you think, holy crap, this happened. This thing that was just an idea in my head is actually happening in front of real live people, and they’re laughing and gasping and invested, and oh my God that actor just came alive in a way I’ve never seen her do before. I think this is why I pursued playwriting, rather than being a novelist. The joy of performance is irreplaceable.