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Interview With Playwright Lisa Dillman Regarding 'Ground'

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This Saturday and Sunday, April 28th and 29th, there will be staged readings of Lisa Dillman‘s play Ground. Tickets can be purchased on the Mirror Stage website. The Saturday show is at 8PM, and tickets are $10, or 4 for $30. Sunday the show is at 2PM and tickets are $8, or 4 for $24.

From Mirror Stage:

After 20 years away, Zelda inherits her father’s pecan farm, and returns home to a vastly changed world at the border between the United States and Mexico. In choosing whether to keep or let go of the farm, Zelda’s beliefs about family, home, and community are tested in the face of a shifting political and social landscape. A moderated discussion with the artists follows every performance.

Lisa Dillman was kind enough to answer some questions about her play and her take on politics.

Tom Mohrman: What is your background in immigration policy?

Lisa Dillman: I don’t have any background in immigration policy except as an observer. Over the past 15 years or so, I have spent a good deal of time near New Mexico’s border with Mexico where I have family and friends, and I’ve noted changes that have taken place there during that time, most of them having to do with tightened security and enforcement. Though the play’s small town, Fronteras, is fictional, it has a basis in actual border communities I’ve encountered.

TM: Does the play serve as a means to deliver your stance on these issues, or
is it more to raise questions?

LD: The latter. I don’t claim to have any answers in the play. I feel that immigration policy is
broken, but that doesn’t translate to my knowing how to fix it. I wrote the play because I find the border with its mash-up of cultures and beliefs a fascinating and increasingly volatile place. And I have always been interested in questions involving community, in particular what binds together and/or breaks apart a particular community. So many people who live on or near the border have family on both sides, and as border security has tightened, some families have been compromised and split apart. I found that situation compelling. In Ground I wanted to explore the human costs of this tightened security on a small border community made up of both Latino and Anglo families. There are no villains or heroes in the play. There are only people trying their damnedest to do what they believe is right.

TM: Does this play speak to your personal experience?

LD: Yes, in as much as the voices and the personalities of the characters, the place, and many of the situations have their roots in people, places, and situations I have encountered firsthand. The events of the play, however, are fictional.

TM: Are your plays often political?

LD: It depends on how you define political. I didn’t write Ground because I wanted to air my stance on a hot-button issue. I wrote it because I was and still am conflicted, and I’m interested in the human elements of immigration and border control and, particularly, in the way government policies can shift family and community alliances.

TM: How have you changed as a playwright?

LD: Ground is one of several plays I’ve written over the past ten years that explore the issue of community from multiple characters’ points of view. The other two plays, Rock Shore, which looks at the lives of patients in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the early 1900s, and The Walls,which examines the lives of women with mental illness, were each conceived with that structure in mind. In each play, as with Ground, I felt that part of my job as a playwright was to treat all of the characters with as much fairness as I possibly could—to attempt to really elucidate even the views I least agreed with personally.

TM: Can you tell me a bit about the upcoming performance?

LD: I’ll be seeing the performance on Saturday night and have not been involved in the rehearsal process. I have had great communication with Suzanne Cohen, the play’s director, and that has been both fun and constructive. I’m curious to revisit the play in its first public airing in the Northwest, and to hear the Seattle audience’s response.