Megan Gogerty is dishing up a dinner party with a side of apocalypse.
Beyond that, she’s not revealing too much about her latest dramatic venture, the dinner party titled “Feast.” The period is part of the title, not merely a mortal mark of punctuation in the play’s immortal world.
Gogerty, who teaches playwriting at the University of Iowa, wanted to make it very clear that she’s using “feast” as a verb, not a noun. Hence, the period creates a sentence shorter than “Feast (The Verb Version).”
“It’s more like ‘Sit down,’” she said.
Audience members are the guests in the latest play springing from her imagination onto the Riverside Theatre stage in Iowa City, for a world premiere running Friday (10/25) through Nov. 10.
Gogerty is purposefully ambiguous about the plot, because she’s tucked a secret inside the play and doesn’t want to spoil the moment the audience discovers what the show is really about. That decision grew from feedback she received as she developed the script at various theaters and universities around the country.
“There’s a moment when the penny drops, and they realize what story they’re in, and they get really, really excited,” she said.
So she and Adam Knight, Riverside’s artistic director, decided that since this is her fifth solo show there, audiences who know her work “could tolerate a little ambiguity about what the play is, and trust that it will pay off for them in delight when they come to the show,” she said.
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Riverside’s website hints that Gogerty is “navigating the intersection of politics and myth” at a dinner party that’s “both thrillingly ancient and fiercely present.”
“The woman who’s throwing the party looks like a fancy lady,” played by Gogerty, 44, of Iowa City, and directed by Saffron Henke. “But we discover really early on that she’s not human. She tell us: ‘I’ve invited you here because humanity’s reign on earth is coming to an end, with the end of humanity. Thousands of years ago, your fathers wronged me and my kind. And so tonight, we’re going to have a truth and reconciliation committee, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.’
“And so she launches into this story that’s very high-fantasy epic,” Gogerty said. “It’s swords and monsters. It’s death and dismemberment. It’s very ‘Game of Thrones.’ It’s a thrilling, thrilling, thrilling adventure kind of story that she launches into.
“The whole play, taken together, is asking the question of what is our responsibility to one another when the strong man comes to town, when the dictator rises. What can we do about it as regular people, as people with jobs and mortgages and utility bills and kids and Girl Scout meetings? What can we do when our collective fate is in the hands of a small minority of people who may or may not have our best interests at heart? What options do we have?”
Through this premise, Gogerty is attempting to explore the feelings of helplessness arising from grim news about climate change, mass shootings, gun control and lack of politicians’ response to these issues.
“I don’t have the solutions — I’m a playwright — I write plays,” she said. “But I wanted to write an experience where I could push back against some of that despair, that maybe we collectively in the room, for an evening, have a feeling of catharsis and a feeling of empowerment that we can take into the world and beat back that despair feeling. That despair feeling is not helpful, and it’s not true. In fact, we have a lot of things that we can do. You and me and our neighbors have a lot more power than we think we do.”
This tone signals a departure from her previous comedic leanings.
“It’s not a comedy. It’s a big risk for me,” she said. “It’s got some laughs, because I can’t help myself. It’s a ghost story. It’s a horror show. It’s a thrilling, sort of high-fantasy, epic tale.
“It’s an adventure story in some ways. It’s blood and guts, but also ecstasy and communion — it’s all of those things,” she said. “It’s highly theatrical. Parts of it are in blank verse.”
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She typically spends about a year writing a play, giving it time to sit in a drawer and “get smarter than I am,” she said, noting that as a busy teacher, mom and partner to the show’s scenic and lighting designer, Chris Rich, she has to set aside time to focus on writing.
“I do a lot of pacing and muttering aloud, and then I sit down and hunch over my little laptop,” she said. “I write and rewrite and rewrite quite a bit.”
This time, the end result is “a really exciting and a brand-new piece for me,” she said. “I’ve never written a play like this before. It is a hard-left turn from anything I have done before.
“There’s a real freedom in that kind of style of writing, because I can say things maybe I couldn’t say otherwise, so that’s fun. There’s an epic poem quality of it that lets me speak the truth in a way that I might not have otherwise, if I had done it in a more pedestrian style.
“It’s also a real ride. It’s a lean 70 minutes and it doesn’t stop. There are parts that are funny, there are parts that are electrifying. It’s evil on the full spectrum of emotions. It’s a ride.”
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• What: World premiere: “Feast.” by Megan Gogerty
• Where: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
• When: Friday (10/25) to Nov. 10; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
• Tickets: $30 adults, $28 ages 60 and over and 30 and under, $24 veterans, military and immediate family, $10 students kindergarten through college; Riverside Theatre Box Office, (319) 338-7672 or riversidetheatre.org/feast
• Extra: Talkback with actor/writer Megan Gogerty, director Saffron Henke and designer Chris Rich after Friday’s performance
• Artist’s website: megangogerty.com