Great theatre rarely "just happens." And sometimes a great idea isn't timely until, well, it's the right time. For playwright Robert Rosenbaum, the right time is now and the play is BASEMENT, which will offer it's debut at Theatre 54 (Shetler Studios) this weekend beginning Friday, November 17th through Sunday, November 19th for 5 performances only. We had a chance to meet up with the Catskills-based, former Brooklynite and playwright, talk about his timely new play, and how it made it to the stage with the help of ANDTheatre.
Q: Tell us about the story itself and why you wrote it. Where did the idea come from and where do you think this story might go?
Robert Rosenbaum: During our years in the Iraq war I often thought about what if they sent planes here? I was living in Brooklyn at the time and figured I would go into our basement during any bombing raids. From there my mind wandered... What would I need? Who would I let in? What would I find when I came out? I read several books on the bombings of London during WWII. The people routinely sought shelter, during bombing raids, underground in basements, shelters; the tube. I thought this would be a great setting for a character study. I wrote pieces of it intermittently for several years. Then I got serious with it in 2016. In October of that year we had the first reading with ANDTheatre Company. Then came November 8, 2016. The election aided me in rewrites, helping me to clarify the characters and the circumstances around which the play centers. The play has become more timely in the year since and I hope this showcase will lead to a full production BEFORE we all end up IN bomb shelters.
Q: The idea of a "next war" is a scary concept. Do you have any thoughts as to who we will fight and why? Why does the war happen here on American soil?
Robert Rosenbaum: There is always a next war. At this point it could be with North Korea, but there is no fiduciary gain from such a war. I still believe the next war will be against a coalition of Arab countries. With the world as small as it is these days, what is to stop a major war from spilling onto US soil?
Q: Who are the characters (without giving plot twists away) and how do they play into the story? Tell us about the father daughter dynamic.
Robert Rosenbaum: The basement belongs to a single father, Jake and his daughter, Hannah. He has stocked it and set up a shelter in anticipation of the bombing raids. Jake is a bit of an overprotective father since Hannah lost her mother at an early age. However, that has seemed to make Hannah strong and protective of Jake. They retreat to the basement for the first time under actual bombing conditions and are immediately faced with the question of who to let into their shelter. They have already agreed to let in their upstairs neighbors Steve and Lily. Lily is having their first child late in life. This, along with current events has brought to the surface the couple's narrow-mindedness and bigotry. In the middle of the conflict, several neighbors call for help from the outside. Jake lets them in against Steve's judgement and the ethnic diversity leads to heightened tensions in the confined space, which is exacerbated when the building above collapses, trapping them in the basement together.
Q: I am curious to know more about your work, your themes, and your approach to the writing. How did you build this story in terms of the writing and dialogue, the setting, etc?
Robert Rosenbaum: I am somewhat eclectic in my writing. I lean more towards comedy, but believe every good drama must have moments of light-heartedness. My scripts tend to be naturalistic and I try to approach the dialog as such. Basement evolves out of the circumstance these characters find themselves in, so the dialogue really flows from there. While the world outside the basement might be a dystopian future, I have tried to portray the characters as a cross-section of today's society. I have therefore opted to write this play in a realistic voice. However I am a big fan of Samuel Beckett's work and I have a short film I wrote and directed currently in several festivals that is styled after Waiting for Godot.
You have only this weekend (for now) to catch BASEMENT at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, with 5 performances of this AEA showcase directed by Joan Kane.
Tickets Click Here: Smarttix