Q: The God-Shaped Hole is a poignant comedy that looks at the nature of love and faith. Its central character, Jane Ashby, is trying to figure out who or what God is. To what degree is her search also an attempt to find out who she is?
A: I think Jane's attitude towards religion is deeply rooted in her history of loss. She's lost a son, a husband, and now she is losing her mother. With so much loss around her, I do think it's true that Jane loses herself, as well. With so much emptiness, Jane is desperately trying to fill the void left, and she does so in a search for meaning, or for God.
Q: Jane says she samples elements of faiths like appetizers at a restaurant, and there are theologians who use the analogy of stores at a shopping mall - as if we are picking and choosing what we want at the Hometown Buffet or the South Coast Plaza of faith. Do you think Jane is looking for a belief system she can aspire to, or simply one she is comfortable with?
A: Jane's relationship with religion is unique because she has suffered so much. Her past makes her desperate and obsessive in her search for faith. She wants to know which religion is right, so that she can finally stop looking and feel peace, especially in the wake of mourning for her dead loved ones. But the irony is that, in being unable to decide on one faith for herself, she can never actually find that peace.
Q: You teach creative writing at OCSA, you went through the MFA program in dramatic writing at UCR, and you were in the orbit of the late great Hunger Artists Theatre Company. How have these experiences informed your playwriting?
A: Teaching has always been creatively inspiring for me. Teaching what I love every day to students who are original and imaginative and always surprising me is really my ideal job, especially at OCSA, which is a really uniquely creative space. It keeps my ideas fresh, and it means I'm always stirring up new ideas every day. I actually started my education at USC film school, so much of my playwriting is rooted in the cinematic styles of film writing. That keeps me using visual images (in God-Shaped Hole, an example might be the spiders trapped in cups) to tell stories, as well as dialogue. My MFA at UCR was hugely influential, because it gave me several chances to see my work staged and workshopped under the guidance of fantastic faculty members. The Hunger Artists also had a big impact on my writing. I have never seen a theatre company as fearless as Hunger. They produced work that was immensely original and "outside the box", and it really inspired me to play with the conventions of storytelling and the stage in new ways.
Q: You are also part of Fell Swoop Playwrights, a collective whose slogan is "on the playwright's terms". Could you elaborate?
A: Fell Swoop is a great group of about a dozen playwrights, based mostly in Los Angeles. We started out primarily as a workshopping group then decided that we should expand to start producing our own work and creating our own opportunities. To date we have produced several readings and a full-length collaborative play called The Miss Julie Dream Project that premiered at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and is currently being remounted at Son of Semele Theatre in L.A. When you're a writer it is easy to sit back and send out your stuff, taking a passive interest in your production opportunities, and Fell Swoop is focused on giving playwrights a more active role in this process.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I'm working on a full-length dark comedy called The One That Got Away that's scheduled for a concert reading at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica this fall.
Catch Abbe Levine's The God-Shaped Hole August 15-16 @ 8pm, August 24 @ 2pm, and August 25 @ 7pm in the Moulton Center Studio Theatre at this year's OC-Centric.