Kristine Haruna Lee’s WAR LESBIAN: the type of theatre that’ll get lodged in yr throat
Kristine Haruna Lee’s play WAR LESBIAN is currently running at Dixon Place.
at this writing it’s in the middle of it’s second of three debauched weekends. as I sit looking like a desperate housewife a la Marie Antoinette between scenes in said play, I am genuinely struck by the peculiar purist slash perverse poetry that is KHL’s writing. like, seriously guys, every night, some lines just give me chills. but not like in a sexy cliché feather on your skin fifty shadesish way. well yes in a sexy way but like, sexy if you could be turned on by dropping a cinder block on your own foot and knowing its the motherfucking truth. not to mention the delectable human organisms who are inhabitingly masticating her language. O. and it’s a musical ..
this is from an audio transcript, massively fucked up temporally and excerpted
Q: how conscious is your writing process?
KHL: I often .. I’m just gonna answer w the first thing that comes to mind ..when I write, it just happens in one sitting .. there’ll be a lot of thinking, of premeditating beforehand but when the actual writing happens it’s like a massive shit. it just all comes out ..I’ll write just not knowing what the structure will be and then I look back and see where it’s at, see what it is. I feel like consciously .. my reality self is not always there when I’m writing. like I hit a different kind of consciousness when I’m writing
Q: I can totally feel that. .. so you gestate and then you exposit everything on paper. do you then do any shifting (w structure)? I am so struck by how asymmetrical and balanced your play is. because there is this debate about the value of a dramaturg and that kind of work. do you edit afterward?
KHL: .. I feel like there’s only so much I can do as a writer. the second draft happens when we bring it to the actors. the thing that was always there was the fact that there is an upperworld and a lowerworld and I got that from the myth we were drawing from .. in the myth most of the story takes place in that upper plane and I wanted to explore the lowerworld. and in the play, the upperworld feels like I kno what’s going on, it’s more structured, but in the second act, I still don’t know as a writer everything that’s happening there
Q:.. it makes me think: is this an adaptation, what would you call this .. did you think of it as adapting a myth?
** [KHL is working w the Sedna myth about an arctic-y woman who “refuses” her male suitors and gets her fingers chopped off and travels down below the sea to the underworld where said dismembered members become volatile and volitional sea creatures] **
KHL: I think I saw such a strong correlation in Sedna starting in the upperworld and then shifting into the other world .. that moment was so relatable, that shift, that jump .. it was easier to translate the upperworld of the myth bc the story was there, the characters were there .. what happens in the underworld was the biggest challenge .. y’kno in the play there’s a lot of references to the city, that feels v here and now .. and the underworld feels like that to me .. so how does Sedna, who is relatable to powerful women doing their thing in the city .. how do I create the story for her in that space
Q: how much did you steep yourself in the myth before you sat down and wrote your play?
KHL: I don’t think of myself as academically inclined, I kind of let the research keep leading me, I don’t r direct it. I just keep reading and finding and reading and finding and I let that .. and I guess there is a kind of steeping in the mess of that in what I found and allowing the play to come out of there
Q: how long do you think you were thinking about the Sedna myth before you sat down to write it?
KHL: mmmmmmmmmm, mmmmmmmmmm, about two years
Q: talk about your relationship w composer Katie (Hathaway) ** [also a classmate at Brooklyn] **
KHL: she and I met at the composer librettist studio at New Dramatists and we were paired up as the two youngest and queer writers there .. and we work this way where I oftentimes come in w a chunk of txt and we sit in the same room and she starts plunking things out on the piano w the small amt of txt and then I get inspired and write more
Q: what’s yr deal w you and objects? there’s such a richness and edginess to how the objects work ..
KHL: what objects in War Lesbian? the canteen dong?
Q: well that’s the first one that comes to mind bc it’s spoken about but – even my character – that I’m the womb or the hair .. those are motifs usually used for children’s stories or animated .. have you ever asked yourself what that’s about or is that just the way your mind works?
KHL: I think that’s always been where I .. like Judy or Mary just doesn’t do it for me but, Starfish, or when I think of a Beached Whale that evokes such a history and such a life in my mind vs a name name
Q: now does that shut off when you walk down the street?
KHL: I think my friend Swan has seen me do this most outside of the playworld but I remember meeting one of her friends and being like, that woman is a hamburger
Q: what am I?
KHL: I don’t kno
Q: what are you
KHL: I don’t kno I don’t kno
Q: what do you feel like. just today. noncommittal
KHL: today .. maybe I think of myself as a nut, a lot **[she laughs like a mushroom breathing close to wet ground]**
Q: I like it
Jessica Almasy is a co founder of the TEAM and a member of the wook taut majesty. She is an actress and a writer. BFA Acting NYU Tisch, MFA Playwriting Brooklyn College.