A cult, addiction, and the playwriting process

By Jenny Kokai | Rachel Bublitz

Plan-B Theatre’s Script-In-Hand Series, launched in 2004, provides the first public audience for many a play. This season’s series has a festival vibe to it, with four workshops taking place within a four-week period, each culminating in a free public reading on Zoom.

Rachel Bublitz’s TIP TOP TRIANGLE takes the audience inside a cult, while Jenny Kokai’s THE ROBOTS OF WALMART takes the audience inside the impact of addiction.

Plan-B’s Artistic Director, Jerry Rapier, asked them each to share a few thoughts on their processes and plays.

Rachel Bublitz, what made you decide to pursue playwriting?

Most of my life I was involved with theater. Mostly acting and directing, but I did some design work as well. After having my kiddos, I was desperate to get back into theater, but couldn’t really afford a babysitter for work that I largely knew I wouldn’t get paid for. I decided to give playwriting a chance and, once I got the hang of it, found it much more rewarding than any other role I’d had in theater. And I never looked back.

What was the impetus for TIP TOP TRIANGLE?

So many things. Lack of roles for women on the stage. David Mamet on Broadway in 2021. The boxes women and mothers find themselves painted into. Performative femininity. Capitalism, and how capitalism can’t help but dehumanize us. Rage. I was (am?) so angry during the pandemic and it was hard for me to find any words for my fellow adults. Lies. Manipulation. Power.

What scares you most about your play?

I believe, of all my plays, it follows realism the least. I have a million different references baked in, that in my mind, all come together to make perfect sense, but might just be word soup for anyone else.

What excites you most about your play?

Probably the same things that scare me, oddly enough! I love to let loose and have confidence that my audience will follow along, and Tip Top Triangle, by far, gives audiences the most space to follow along. Or not! Or it’s just word soup. But I hope to figure all of that out in this workshop! Or at least as much of it that I can.

Jenny Kokai, what made you pursue playwriting?

I have literally been a playwright my entire life. I started by writing plays and making my sisters do them in our basement. I wrote plays for elementary school and middle school assignments that I made my class do (I distinctly remember being proud of staging in 8th grade English where we did some myth and I made ocean waves with fabric—it was innovative for 8th grade English lol). I went to a performing arts high school as an acting major, realized I was terrible, but it had a playwriting and directing class and I realized oh this is what I am good at. There have been times when I didn’t write plays and I was like, maybe I’m a historian now or whatever, but then I wrote another play. It’s a compulsion.

What was the impetus for THE ROBOTS OF WALMART?

A wise friend Gina (the dramaturg on SINGING TO THE BRINE SHRIMP [my last production at Plan-B before the pandemic]) said something like “Oh this is a pandemic play that never mentions the pandemic.” It’s true. When the pandemic started and we were all forced to be home, people were also forced to confront things they hadn’t had to before about their relationships, about community and loneliness, about finding meaning.

One thing I was forced to confront  was learning the truth about a loved one’s serious addiction issues that I didn’t see before when I was so busy doing theatre all day and night. Unless you’ve known an addict really well, it’s so hard to explain how good they are at lying, at gaslighting you, at making you feel crazy, and you feel so wildly out of control of your own life and safety.

I also saw on social media a huge outbreak of folks organizing and tidying their homes, which has happened before, but I saw a ton more of during the pandemic. These things did not seem unrelated to me: I saw a lot of people trying to find ways to control situations that were way outside of their control and that can lead to some ugly and desperate behavior. I also had a friend who for whatever reason knew I would be interested in the fact that Walmart was using inventory robots and would send me photos of the robot when he went there, sometimes working, sometimes not. So that all kind of went into the soup of this play.

What scares you most about your play?

Writing honestly about addiction or having addicts in your life is scary as fuck. People have a “just world” theory. They want to believe that nothing bad can happen to them, that they would be smarter or make better choices and they wouldn’t wind up where Annie did and I understand that, it’s a totally normal defense mechanism. But what it means is that it’s easier to blame Annie [the central character] for being in a relationship with an addict than to sympathize with her. OR it’s easier to decide that Jeremy [her husband] is a villain and not to understand that addiction can make people you really love or like, people who have only been nice or kind to you, do terrible things behind closed doors. I’ve watched that play out this year, on a large scale, and it’s really upsetting.

What excites you most about your play?

These are opposites: I have the best cast and director humans to work with. I have always wanted to put a robot on stage and this is a step towards that. Also, if I’m not scaring the shit out of myself as an artist, I’m not growing. So. Growing time.

Free-but-required tickets to the Script-In-Hand Series readings of TIP TOP TRIANGLE (September 17) and THE ROBOTS OF WALMART (October 8) on Zoom are available at planbtheatre.org – click The Plays. The Series also features readings of “Radio Play” by Tatiana Christian (October 1) and “Squeak” by Tito Livas (September 24).

This article was originally published on August 31, 2022.