During social distancing, Actors Theatre is streaming a play about distance between a father and his gay son

by Allie Fireel

When theatres shut down to combat the spread of Covid-19, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays was cut short, just two weeks into its six week run. Two of the five plays originally set to premiere are available for streaming, Are You There? by Vivian Barnes, Jonathan Norton, and Gab Reisman, and Where the Mountain Meets the Sea, by Jeff Augustin, with original music by The Bengsons. 

The latter is the story of Jonah, a gay man trying to reconnect with his deceased father, through a cross country journey, and a connection with music. Allan K. Washington, a gay man himself and the actor playing Jonah, spoke with Queer Kentucky by phone to talk about LGBTQ issues in the real world and onstage, originating the role of Jonah, and fathers and sons having difficult connections.

(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.) 

Queer Kentcuky: So, you originated this role, working directly with the playwright. What’s that like?

Allan Washington: When you’re doing new plays it’s almost as if you are helping  to create it, because you really are. It felt very near and dear to my heart, and I just love the piece so much. When I auditioned for it,  I really had this gut feeling that was like , ‘oh yeah, this person is me.’

QK: So this play has a bunch of music. Is it a musical?

AW: It felt like a play with music. I do a little singing, but it’s not  like I’m feeling all these emotions and then I burst into song. The songs are sort of within the play, so it felt very different from a musical.

So what’s the difference between a singing character, and a character that sings?

AW: Our playwright describes the play as a memory play, and what music does I  think is it allows time for these characters to have their own remembering of each other, and being in space with each other. 

QK: This play has ruminations on distance, which is interesting to me in the context of social distancing. 

AW: It definitely is on my heart and on my mind and it makes me call my family more often. And I feel  like that’s what the play makes people do. It’s like “oh yeah, I’ve got to remember that while I have my parents here with me I really need to get to know them and let them get to know me.” And I think everyone is feeling that right now. 

QK: And of course distance in the play also connects to the distance a lot of LGBTQ folks feel between them and their family.

AW:  The character of my dad is a Haitian immigrant, and so he has  a really difficult time just coming to terms with the fact that he has a gay son. And I in turn  have a very difficult time talking to him about it. That’s a huge huge theme in the play. 

I think a lot of gay male children who have now turned into adults really have very similar experiences with that. I know very few of my gay friends who had an easy time with their father. 

QK: Did you and your real life dad connect through music? 

AW: My real dad exposed me to so much good music while I was young, and I really took it for granted. He’s like  the hugest Prince fan, and his job involved a lot of driving, and when I was a child I would always be in a car with him, and he would be blasting Prince. 

I never admitted it to him but I loved Prince. I always acted like I hated him. I’m sure that’s a huge reason why I started doing musical theatre, and theatre in general, was all that music that my Dad sort of introduced me to.

QK: Switching gears, what was it like to have the run of this play basically not happen?

AW: The day we found out was very devastating. Because I didn’t find out until I arrived for the rehearsal before the second preview.  And I just sort of found our director, and our dramaturg and stage manager, sort of standing in a huddle and they sort of called me over, and I saw it on their faces before I even got to them; something was wrong. 

QK: And then Actors cancelled the entire festival.

AW: In hindsight, it’s a fantastic thing for them to do, because it helped stop the spread in Kentucky, but it was no less devastating for us. Because the work was just so personal, and I got so close  to everyone involved.

QK: Any thoughts on how it’ll be received as far as streaming it into people’s homes?

AW: Oh yeah-  I actually watched it last night, and  I’m very excited for people to see it in this way. I mean nothing can  compare to seeing it with a live audience, but they actually brought in a video crew and  had several cameras at several different places in the theatre so it really does capture the  play in a beautiful, beautiful way. Hopefully this is a way that even more people can experience it. 

You can stream Where the Mountain Meets the Sea until April 20th.