Photo: 16th Street Theater
THE HERO’S WIFE began for Chicago playwright Aline Lathrop when she read a 2013 Esquire magazine piece headlined: The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden … Is Screwed. It talked in depth with the retired Navy SEAL, then unnamed, credited with eliminating the al-Qaeda leader two years earlier in a Pakistan compound.
His post-SEAL life wasn’t going well.
“I still have the same bills I had in the Navy” he said, “but no money coming in from anywhere. I just want to be able to pay all those bills, take care of my kids and work from there. I’d like to take the things I learned and help other people in any way I can.”
THE HERO’S WIFE had the first half of its world premiere in July at the 16thStreet Theater in Berwyn, Ill., outside Chicago. The second half, runs April 12 – May 5 at Synchronicity Theatre in Midtown (tickets HERE or at 404.484.8636). It follows a retired Navy SEAL named Cameron (Joe Sykes) and his wife, Karyssa (Rebeca Robles), as they try to find their way back to each other after a long time apart.
Aline, who gives her age as “grown,” lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood with husband Ben, a molecular engineer, teenage daughters Viviana and Isadora, and a Labrador retriever. She’s a 16th Street Theater artistic associate, a Chicago Dramatists resident playwright alumna and a Dramatists Guild member.
Joe Sykes as Cameron and Rebeca Robles as Karyssa. Photo: Jerry Siegel
Her kind of theater, Aline says, is intimate, whether in a small or large house. “I need to feel connected to the action onstage,” she says. She took time from rehearsals of her own intimate play to share some insights with dramaturg Kathy Janich.
SYNCHRONICITY: How would you characterize your work?
ALINE: When I first started writing plays, I was driven by a desire to know and explore my own identity. These days I’m more interested in understanding others, the connections I can draw between us, the compassion I can find and the possibility of sharing that compassion with an audience. All my plays are intensely personal. But unless you’ve ever slept beside me, you probably won’t guess how.
S: Do you come from an artistic family?
A: I’m the only child of language teachers who are musical. My mother danced and played flute. My father could play any instrument, though, he said, not well. Language and music are basically the same, in my opinion. Interestingly, my father’s father, who was a wholesale bottle-cap salesman, was also a playwright published by Samuel French. He wrote short and clever “competition plays” for his daughter’s drama club.
For me, the experience of writing a play is rooted in my love of the vernacular, which I inherited from my father. It’s also like composing chamber music. I think my parents were disappointed when I didn’t turn out to be musical like they were, but it turns out that I am. It just comes out in dialogue.
S: What was your very first theater experience?
A: Other than ballet, it was a mime performance my father took me to when I was 3. I still remember parts of it. That night, on my instructions, my father used typing paper and staples to craft a white top hat like the mime’s, so that I could perform for my preschool the next day. For years, my ambition was to become a mime.
S: When did playwrighting become your career path, and why?
A: When I went to college majoring in theater, I had been acting professionally for many years. I even had some points toward an Equity card. I had also been writing – mostly poetry and some fiction. But something was changing in me. I didn’t crave being onstage anymore. I didn’t want to touch people I didn’t want to touch. I didn’t want to be the vehicle of someone else’s vision. My second year of college, I took a playwriting class, and as soon as I managed the shift to storytelling through dialogue, I was home.
I remember the electrical connection I felt with the audience as the conduit of a story when I was an actor. It was a high I didn’t believe could be matched. But when I started writing plays, I felt the quiet thrill of sitting in the dark, watching my vision unfold onstage, feeling the audience’s response no longer focused on me but all around me.
S: What playwrights, past or present, influence your work?
A: When I first started writing plays, I was also discovering Georgia O’Keeffe. One day, leafing through a book of her paintings and writings, I came upon some words of hers that reflected my own artistic ambitions: “I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.” The sentence “I believe it was June before I needed blue” became my mantra. It helped me hone a discipline of economy for which I hope my work is known. Also Chekhov, for all the desire and yearning that propels his characters so often to nothing at all.
S: Bonus question … What’s next?
A: I’m developing The Benefit Committee, a play about the dark side of the culture of achievement. It takes place in a school cafeteria where seven places are set for six women to fold 1,000 origami butterflies for a benefit to raise $250,000 for an organic kitchen garden and butterfly conservatory. After that, a play inspired by a classic and a film inspired by fear.