Plasticity, a multi-media, one-man tour de force that plumbs the depths of neuroscience, family dynamics and healing, is electrifying audiences at the Hudson Guild Theatre.
The Ovation Award-winning writing team of Alex Lyras and Rob McCaskill created Plasticity, a one-man show that, through the narrative of 13 characters, allows Lyras to take his audience on a journey that explores the inner-workings of the brain, the dynamics of identical twins, and the wrestle over right to die issues. Here Lyras takes us behind the scenes of this gripping and engaging play that has garnered rave reviews and just had its run extended through April 10.
How did the idea of Plasticity come to life and how long did it take from initial idea to staging? Alex Lyras: We’ve been tinkering for 2 years. Rob McCaskill, my writing partner, and I both had experiences with friends who had aneurisms. I’ll never forget visiting the priest from the church I went to as a kid. He was in the ICU, in a minimally conscious state, basically waiting to pass on. I went for a final visit with a friend who records sound for film. 25 years earlier, he taped the priest singing the liturgy at the height of his powers. My friend slid a pair of headphones over the priest’s ears and hits play, and his eyes pop open, and he’s back, total lucidity, looking at us as if waking from a dream. And he’s crying, and we’re crying watching him. It was bone chilling. He passed away a week later, but that moment was a major trigger. I started researching everything about the brain.
Where did the various characters come from and how have they developed over the process of writing and producing this show? AL: Characters emerge from story needs. We needed two different neurologists: one to give the procedural info, and one to offer philosophical insights. They’re also giving conflicting advice, which raises the stakes. We have a hospital orderly who’s behind the scenes, but instead of wandering the halls, he’s hosting an open mic, and rapping about work. Legal issues bring in lawyers, and a therapist helps get under the surface. But none of them are clichés. During the run, the characters become more themselves and less me.
Why did you choose to make the lead characters identical twins? AL: Twins are fascinating. Biological programs written in identical code. I’m not a twin, but my sister and I know how each other thinks and feels. With twins, it can be uncanny. They call it “twintuition.” The hook of our plot is what happens when one side of the equation is erased? A brother goes from sensing his twin’s every desire, to only getting static and he’s forced into a devastating dilemma.
How did the 3-D graphics that serve as the set and the digital urgency of the soundtrack come about? AL: Rob and I started scoring the show a year ago with our composer, Ken Rich. We have full compositions, subtle pads underneath scenes, and myriad sound effects. The score has a trajectory all of it’s own: the use of minor and major cords, intertwining themes, escalations and reprisals, speaker placement… It’s a work of art on its own.
The video assets took almost as long. Corwin Evans, our designer, is a magician. I handed him 500 gigs of raw footage—home movies, stock footage, etc—and he began assembling a visual theme. We have two screens to fill, a scrim in front of the actor, which you can see through, but it can also hold an image, as if floating in mid air, and a cyc behind, which is like a movie screen. We had to be careful the images didn’t wash each other out, or spill onto one another. It was painstaking, but it came together. With sound and video, we set out to put the audience inside the brain of this character, and it’s really working.
What did you learn during the research and writing of Plasticity? AL: That there’s too much fascinating information to fit into an 85-minute play. We keep discovering new things about this 3 ½ lbs organ in our skulls. The most interesting thing is how resilient our brains are. If one area gets damaged, another area will rewire itself to compensate. That’s what neuroplasticity is all about.
Share your background and how it effects both the story and character development of this show. AL: Story telling is in my blood. I’m Greek and from an island called Chios, which claims to be the birthplace of Homer. He was the first guy to do a one-person show. It was called The Iliad and it took roughly 20 hours to tell it. He clearly had a great agent because he followed it up with a sequel called The Odyssey.
Tell me more about your partnership with Robert McCaskill and how that dynamic influences your story development and writing. AL: This is our fourth collaboration for the stage and we’re getting better at what we do. We challenge each other, play to each other’s strengths, and have a high tolerance for constructive criticism. We never judge ourselves too harshly in the early phases. It’s all encouragement. Then, towards the end, it’s brutal critique. Cut and tighten!
How does it feel to have Plasticity receive so many glowing reviews and an extension to its run at the Hudson Theatre? AL: It’s great validation when people really understand what we’re aspiring to. Fellow writers are elevating their words in an attempt to spread the news about the show. That’s encouraging.
What’s next for you and for Plasticity? AL: I’m directing a feature I wrote that shoots in NYC. It’s my first full length, so I’m preparing for it in every waking hour. Plasticity will have a run in New York, and London, too. After that, I’m taking a nap. Then, maybe go to Japan.