Infinithéâtre presents Conversion by Alyson Grant
Writer of the hit show Progress!
Conversion ’s four family members get together for what is supposed to be a straightforward celebratory supper, but familiar patter and patterns quickly devolve into a collision course of identities—race, class, gender and religion. This is the night that secrets explode and the bonds of love and blood get twisted and tested.
Conversion has been compared to Long Day’s Journey into Night and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, two great American classics where, like Conversion, family secrets come tumbling out of the characters in their own homes, perhaps over dinner – a private and comfortable sphere for most people. What do you think it is about this setting that makes for such compelling theatre and why did you choose to set your play there?
I love dinner plays and have always wanted to write one. I also love dinners, though I have sat through a few tense ones over the years, particularly when there’s been an alcoholic at the table, as there is in Conversion. The dinner table, with its intimacy and familiarity, allows for things to come tumbling out, as does booze, so the home and the table become a space conducive to the unwieldy. Our characters may be feeling a false sense of safety because it’s the home, but sometimes the most egregious hurt happens in what is supposed to be our sanctuary. Throw an in-your-face character in there and all of this gets put on steroids.
Why do you think people hold on to their “tribal identities” so fiercely, and how is this addressed in Conversion? Do any of the characters have a hard time letting go?
I have no idea why people hold on to tribal identities; fear, jealousy, pride, identity prescription, ugliness, ignorance, need? I was very careful not to provide any answers in the play, as I fear answers are elusive to that question, and I don’t want the play to be prescriptive or a morality play in any way. I wanted the messiness, ambiguity and unconsciousness, when it comes to tribal lines. Three of these people would consider themselves good, open human beings. Two of them might have some suspicions that have found their way in, though they try their hardest not to see those suspicions as anything other than a ‘realist outlook’. We’re seeing this sort of thing a lot right now. Suspicions are getting voiced as though they were rational and legitimate when in fact they are rooted, in my opinion, in more nefarious motivations.
When you wrote the play, did you know it was going to be performed in a church? If so, did that effect your writing at all, and if not, what was your reaction when you found out?
I had no idea but I figured Infinithéâtre would come up with some kind of engaging and interesting space, as they always do. The play does explore religious themes, though not Christianity so much. However, there’s a lovely irony to the conversation echoing off walls where hymns of tolerance and love were sung for decades.
Given the content of the play, and the performance venue, I’d like to talk a little about the Christian concept of confession. Are artistic expressions, like writing, a sort of confession, or does it ever feel that way to you? Why or why not?
I suppose this play is a confession of some kind on my part, a confession of confusion over why we are so embedded in what I believe are our largely learned tribal communities. And I’m including myself in there, of course, though I hope nowhere near the degree to which our characters are. Genetics is increasingly telling us we share more than we differ so why are we so resistant to others, or so quick to see others as ‘other’? Again, I don’t have answers. I just wanted to get in the muck of those suspicions, particularly when they come out of otherwise liberal-minded people.