Playwright Julia Sommer’s next production has the intriguing title “Death, Dogs, Dope and the Divine.” Sommer, a former journalist, rock and roll singer and Zen monk, is a self-taught playwright. She has been writing plays for the past five years. We visited in her charming Ashland home.
EH: What’s our attraction to theater?
JS: As a member of the audience, it’s magic. You see real-live 3-D, living, breathing people performing these incredible roles and you get totally caught up in it, and you’re moved. And sometimes you do have new thoughts and new ways of looking at things.
The show, the lighting, the costumes and the sound — you get the spectacle. And here you are in a nice comfortable seat, you’re totally catered to and there are the actors doing these incredible things. It’s stimulating. It’s entertaining.
I think the difference between the two-dimensional screen and the three-dimensional theater is you’re in the room with three-dimensional people, and they’re not being edited. It’s not all manipulated like it is on the screen.
It’s a miracle, in this crazy world, that we actually still have the wherewithal to put on these kinds of professional productions. That despite all of the ghastliness, all of the terrible things going on in this world, we can actually get it together to put on these incredible plays.
EH: Do you bring your political conscience to your play writing?
JS: I think you can tell that I’m quite liberal in these plays.
EH: Do you think a play can change people’s mind in regard to politics?
JS: I feel today people are so terribly entrenched in their positions. Some of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays have dealt with the African-American experience. I hope that those plays really wake white people up to what it means to be African-American so that they don’t have these stereotypes. For example, “Top Dog/Underdog” just broke my heart. It’s one of those plays that sort of disassembles your heart, and you have to put it back together again.
I think the plays that are eye-opening are those that show the suffering of people that are different from ourselves, that we didn’t know about, or we didn’t fully appreciate or we didn’t fully feel. The suffering that goes on, just ripping the lid off the suffering that happens in families, they don’t have to be African-American, they can just be regular old white. Clearly, you don’t have to look very deep to find these incredible tales of suffering.
EH: Why do you write plays?
JS: I do it for the fun of it. I’m entertaining myself. It’s almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a certain satisfaction in having these various elements and making them fit together. Then you’ve got to have other people like it. You’ve got to write something that makes people laugh or makes them cry. Here, I’m telling a story that’s affecting other people. There’s a certain feeling of power in that. Then, if you can get the thing on the stage, one way or another “…
It’s pretty incredible to start in your little study with your little idea, and then you eventually see it at least in a reading. It’s pleasing to see your words come alive, to see them spoken and heard and see people laughing and appreciating them. The chance to collaborate with others to make something is satisfying because the whole is greater than the parts.
“Death, Dogs, Dope, & the Divine,” four short plays by Julia Sommer, will be presented Monday, May 14, at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Ashland. There is a $10 to $15 donation recommended to benefit the actors.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco’s Magic Theatre.