On Mothers and Monkeys

New Century Theatre Company launches its sophomore season with a "bittersweet comedy" this Wednesday.

By Karen Quinn May 3, 2010

Stephanie Timm

New Century Theatre Company follows up its award-winning debut season with an original comedy penned by company playwright Stephanie Timm. On the Nature of Dust, about a 16-year-old girl (played by Brenda Joyner) and her sophomoric mother (Amy Thone), launches New Century’s new season with great expectations. Before the show’s bow on May 5, I chatted with the young, giggly Midwestern native about her “dark” writing style and what a chimpanzee has to do with mother-daughter bonding.

Is the play based on anything in your real life?

Every girl is a teenage girl at one time. Even though my mom is nothing like the mom in the story, I was a nightmare when I was 16. We would have these huge fights over the fact that I left too many pairs of shoes in the entryway, or that I wanted to eat Doritos for breakfast. Other than that, the mom in the story is based on my friend in middle school’s mom. She was a single mother, and she was very immature. When I would go over their house, she was like the cool mom: She would sit and talk with us, and she was beautiful, and funny, and treated us as equals. But, that said, it was really my friend Amy who was making sure the rent was paid and all that stuff.

Why did New Century choose On the Nature of Dust for its third-ever production?

We knew that the third show would be something I had written. The company read through everything I was working on, and this piece really resonated with everyone. Our first show was Adding Machine, which was a big, theatrical spectacle. And the second show we did was Orange Flower Water, which was small, and intimate; it was real human storytelling without the spectacle. And my play is exactly between those two. Plus, it’s a comedy, which we really wanted to do. It’s a bittersweet comedy, though. It might creep up on you because it has sad parts to it, but it was important to us to do a comedy. And I don’t write very many comedies.

Is this play indicative of your overall writing style? Or did it break the norm?

I like to think that I don’t write the same play twice. I have a really wide range, and I think all my plays are really different. I wrote one recently that was a grim fairytale world that explores human trafficking. And recently I wrote a play called Everything Nice, which is rooted in realism and is a psychological thriller. That’s probably the darkest thing that I’ve written. But usually my work tends to be darker in tone.

Last year’s budget for New Century was pretty tight. What’s the budget like for this play?

The budget is really teeny tiny for the set, but we pay the artists more than we spend on the materials for things, which is a cool thing about our company. It allows us to work with artists who can be really, really creative with very, very little.

And have to ask…what’s up with the monkey in the promo posters?

In the play, Clara is 16 and she wants to go abroad for her junior year, and that’s where everything starts. Clara wants to get away from her mother and form her own identity, which is the nature of adolescence. And so, her mother won’t let her go abroad, and then Clara turns into a chimpanzee. She devolves into more and more primitive species, and this really forces her mom to grow up and figure out how to take care of her.

On the Nature of Dust runs May 5-30 at ACT Theatre. Read more about New Century’s powerhouse debut season here.

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