Playwright Beirut Balutis on ‘Dead House’
Award-winning playwright, educator, and Visiting Professor of Playwriting Gary Garrison talks with MFA playwright Beirut Balutis about the inspiration behind Dead House.
Gary: You’ve written about a very specific part of high school: athletics and particularly, football. What’s your connection, if any, to high school football?
Beirut: Football was a big ritual in my area. In a place that is very rural, football was the weekly ramp up. If you were anyone you’d watch the high school games and afterwards go to the bonfire the church across the street held. Even if you didn’t watch the game—the social aspect of being at a game was important. My school had these grass hills around the field; kids would lay blankets out to socialize and gossip. My mother is a big inspiration for this play. She’s the football person in our family—every game, every Super Bowl, she’s watching.
Gary: Is your family a usually a source of inspiration for your plays, or, is this the first time? Is there anything you feel is particular to your family that is easily sourced into inspiration?
Beirut: Oh man, that’s tough. Yes, in an abstract way. I think the stories my family tells are the root of my inspirations. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, oral story telling is a part of life. I remember my father telling adventures he had growing up all the time. I loved when we had dinners with family, my father would retell the stories I’ve heard time and time again. I loved watching the reactions of the people he was telling them to.
Gary: What do you think your play, ultimately, is about?
Beirut: I think this play is about identity in a place that is unforgiving and the adaptation of identity to fit into a place like that. Identity can become so skewed and hidden—could you ever return to who you were? Even if it’s dangerous. I always call the part of Pennsylvania I’m from a conservative wonderland. It’s one of the most scenically beautiful places I know—there’re waterfalls, mountains, miles of orchards but in that beauty is this sometimes unforgiving darkness created by the people there based on superstitions and fear of the unknown. Mainly queer hate. When we first started this play, Adam Kassim was looking up my area and, in 2015, a group of students in this Pennsylvania school encouraged classmates to wear flannel and create an anti-gay day in response to the “Day of Silence.”
Gary: So is the play your call to action play, or, is it a meditation on queer hate, or, a simple observation?
Beirut: I think this play is about watching a stranger learn, adapt and navigate at the drop of a hat in territory he’s never seen and the consequences of a toxic society. If you enter pure of heart will you come out the same? I think that message is universal—not just for the queer community but with any perceived ‘outsider.’
Dead House runs at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through April 28. Tickets