Erin Courtney on Her New Play A Map of Virtue

Tom Murrin
Playwright Erin Courtney is the 12th of the original 13 playwrights, aka the 13P, who decided about 10 years ago to work together to help each one get a full-scale production.  In the ensuing decade, Courtney has had a number of other well-received productions, such as  Demon Baby and Black Cat Lost, which, like this one, A Map of Virtue, were staged by the very fine director, Ken Rus Schmoll (The Internationalist). Courtney and her husband, playwright Scott Adkins, were 2009 PAPER Beautiful People, as co-founders of The Brooklyn Writers Space, which now has three locations. I spoke with Erin.

Hi Erin.  What can you tell me about your new show?

I think the play is a little bit of a formal adventure, because it's symmetrical, but it contains a varied emotional landscape which includes love, horror and friendship.  It's also about the present, the supernatural, and the ways we try to understand evil.
How many are in the cast?
Seven people.  The lead is the fabulous Maria Striar, artistic director of Clubbed Thumb.  She plays Sarah.  And the other main character, Mark, is played by Norman Schneider.  They meet under unusual circumstances. Their first three meetings take place over three continents, and they don't speak to each other.  They stare at each other and they imagine things about each other's life.  Then, as the play goes on, we meet some other characters:  Birgit Huppuch plays a bird statue, which guides us through the story, and Alex Draper plays Sarah's husband.  The other characters I can't tell you about because there are some surprises...  But I can tell you that Jesse Lenat sings some songs, and Annie McNamara might give you a scare.
Can you give me some details of what happens?
I don't want to give it away. The thing is, you think it's about something and then it's not.  It's vague, because you have to invest in the story.  There's a possible love story, and then there isn't.   There's all these bird images.  Mark and Sarah are obsessed with birds, and that's what brings them together.  Once things happen in the middle of the play, the second half of the play is these characters trying to understand what they saw, and how to live with it.
I've seen most of your plays and I know that surprise is always a great part of them.  Ken Rus Schmoll directed one of my favorites, Demon Baby, and that was some surprise.
That play was also about depression.  Ken also directed Black Cat Lost, and that was about death.  And A Map Of Virtue is about morality.  Very light subject matter that Ken and I are exploring.
OK, we've got morality, birds and surprises.  Tell me how this play came about.
I started writing it at a silent playwrights retreat in the woods that Erik Ehn runs.  A lot of the fear and mystery and silence came out of the fact that I was in the woods; I wasn't  able to talk, and I was a little bit scared.  The flip side of that is: when you're out in nature, and you're silent, you can explore issues that are more complicated than when you're in the city, when you're so busy multitasking and your imagination can get somewhat limited.  Going out into the woods gives you a larger creative landscape that you can play around in.
4th St. Theatre, 83 E. 4th St., (866) 811-4111. Feb. 6-11, 14-18, 21-25. 8 p.m. $18. More info here.

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