Asheville Fringe Festival: Julian Vorus talks Mothertongue

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Asheville Fringe Festival: Julian Vorus talks Mothertongue

Mothertongue poster

Described as "a dank, dark comedy," Mothertongue, written by Asheville's own Julian Vorus and directed by Steven Samuels, is set to premiere at this year's Asheville Fringe Festival. Several of Vorus's previous works have premiered at Fringe, and they're always boundary-pushing, intense, and marvelously creative pieces that will be on your mind for a long time to come.

This year's piece is no exception. I was immediately fascinated by the poster and artwork that accompanied the description of the play, so I reached out to Vorus with a few questions about what we can expect from this strange and wonderful performance, which will be hosted by the Magnetic Theatre twice during Fringe Fest. 

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First, how did you get involved with Fringe? What are you most excited about that's happening during the festival this year? 

The first show I participated in was in 2002. Jim and Jocelyn [the directors of Fringe] were my neighbors and asked me to help with one of their pieces. I've been involved ever since. I love the atmosphere of Fringe. You never know what's behind the next door. I've seen so many wonderful and bizarre pieces over the years. The first version of my play Rock Saber, I think that was around 2009, was produced and directed by Chall Gray who would shortly thereafter found the Magnetic Theatre with Steven Samuels. Having the encouragement of the Magnetic Theatre and the Asheville Fringe Festival all these years has taken me from doing short performance poems into full length professional plays. I owe them both so very much.
 
Tell us a little about what Mothertongue is about. What can people expect from the performance?
 
Well, of course I don't want to give too much away.  Basically it is a dark comedy about a family attempting to deal with the death of one of the members.
 
Many of my past performances and plays have used nonlinear narratives, fractured/duplicated personalities and alternate physical realities. With Mothertongue, I've set up a story that functions in much the way one would expect a play to work and with characters and locations that are identifiable. In that respect Mothertongue is probably my most accessible work. 
But despite and because of as much, I think people will find it no less strange, uncomfortable and funny than my past works. Some of my favorite moments during my shows is too watch the audience laugh, then be shocked and then laugh at themselves for having found something perverse, funny.
How did you come up with the idea for the play? Was there anything specific in your life that influenced its conception?
 
Originally Mothertongue was a short story I wrote when I was probably twenty. The winter the Magnetic Theatre opened, in it's original location, I was part of a group project that resulted in a collection of one act plays called fix. A very, very, very proto-version of Mothertongue came about then. But I was dissatisfied with it and it wasn't a part of the production. What exists now is a much different piece that took shape once I decided to write the ideas of the story around Alphie Hyorth, who plays Clement. 
 
There are very straight-out-of-the-memory-bank moments in the play, but it isn't autobiographic.  And to be clear, Beverly is not like my real mother (thank God).
 
How did you go about choosing a director? Were you involved in the production planning, casting, etc? To what extent? Any particular challenges or unexpected awesome things that happened at any point in the process, from conception to completion?
 
Steven Samuels, the Artistic Director of the Magnetic Theatre, has taken on the last couple plays I've written (Red Black White and The Bog) and I am so pleased (to put it lightly) to have someone so talented and experienced continue to work with me on Mothertongue. Finding the right actors to fill out the characters was a bit of a nail biter I'll admit. But the pool of talented actors in this town belies Asheville's size. Tristan, Alphie, Allen, Devyn and Delina are superb and I couldn't be more pleased. Mothertongue will kill. 
 
I'm very interested in the illustration (of insects) that accompanies the description on the Fringe site. Who did this, and is it connected to the play? If so, can you talk a little about it (without revealing too much)?
 
Well, that image was given to me to use by my friend Rae LeGrone. She's an artist and teacher who lives in Charlotte. The cover art of my album The Nasty Namaste was done by her as well. Insects exist in the play, but there is a significance of other animals as well. 
 
Who or what were some of your biggest influences (writers, musicians, artists, etc) on this piece and/or in general?
 
I like Pink Floyd a lot? I don't know. I always appreciated the blunt turns of phrase in Hunter S. Thompson. I like stories with non-reliable narrators. I saw Sam Shephard's Curse of the Starving Class when I was seventeen and that left me with an immense wonder of the mysterious darkness and endless possibility of theatre. But I also love books of technical information (and pictures!) of warplanes. So I dunno.  
 
Can you talk a little about the title? It's interesting that the play revolves in part around the father's death. Most of the characters (besides the mother) are also male. "Mothertongue" has the connotation of the mother but is also tied to language, one's "native tongue." Systems of language have been analyzed by certain philosophers and writers (I'm thinking of folks like Lacan and Kristeva) as connected to a "paternal" order. There's not really a question anywhere in this, but if you feel like musing on the topic or if thinking about it led you somewhere specific, feel free to share!
 
There are three male characters; the two brothers, Roger and Peter (performed by Allen T. Law and Tristan Cameron) and their Uncle Clement (Alphie Hyorth).  And two women; the boys' mother Beverly (Delina Hensley) and Roger's x-girlfriend Amelia (Devyn Ray).  So....
 
I'm worried that I am going to sound both pretentious and ignorant in answering this question. Leave it to me!  When I write I really don't think in terms of greater themes or metaphors. It's all a matter of structure, what makes sense in a given scene, what would be funny/weird and how to make that make sense with the characters. Part of the reason I appreciate Steven Samuels so much is he goes deep and draws out intentions and understandings I didn't consciously place nor even really ever considered. And due to the personal nature of my plays, I inevitably learn revealing things about myself and my past. It's psychoanaylsis, long form therapy. I spend large amounts of time, years in the case of Mothertongue, writing, scrapping, editing and reediting  and I guess I leave bits of subconscious scattered about.  But my process is basically logistics and amusing myself. Thus, the title "Mothertongue" appealed to me due to it's familiarity, it being one word with only three syllables and a vague sense of suggestive appropriateness.
 
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Experience the wild and wonderful Mothertongue during the Asheville Fringe Festival. It will be performed twice during Fringe Fest--January 21 and 23 at 9 pm. It will also continue its run a few days later at the Magnetic Theatre, with performances on January 28, 29, and 30 and February 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are on sale now.