by Jenny Kokai
Once upon a time, I read an article on writing artist’s statements, I think, that asked me to articulate what my “project” as an artist is. What is the big question I am trying to answer with my writing? Looking back on my now 26-year career as a playwright (I started super young, I’m not that old), I realized that the thing all of my plays and all of my characters have in common is that they don’t understand how to fit in, they don’t feel “normal,” and they want to find someplace to belong.
So this is another play about that.
It is unfortunately still way more difficult to be an LGBTQ+ parent than it should be, in Utah and in other places. I read with dismay the recent news story of a fifth-grade boy in Utah who was berated in class for having gay dads. It is deeply hurtful and traumatic to any child to have their parents criticized or demeaned and it happens too often to children of LGBTQ+ parents. I was so proud of the three girls in his class who were having none of it and told the principal.
Despite the unnecessary injustices, on a day-to-day basis parenting for anybody is still filled with quotidian needs like finding sneakers, making sure forms are filled out for school, arguing over your child’s refusal to eat anything that is not a white carb.
So Singing to the Brine Shrimp is not a play about those injustices, but rather those quotidian parenting things. Because that’s what parenting should be for everybody.
In this play, Allison is trying to realize a lifelong dream at a super fancy artistic event she is stunned and confused to have been invited to. She is doing this in New York, while her slightly hapless wife, her child, and her dog are at home in Utah. And it turns out the folks in New York are stunned and confused that the playwright they invited with an expectation of what they consider an old, Utah mom-to-be turns out to have an identity that defies their idea (because yes, as the actress we cast in this production demonstrates, there are people of color in Utah, and yes there are LGBTQ+ people in Utah and *gasp* like Plan-B’s own wonderful Jerry Rapier demonstrates, there are LGBTQ+ people of color in Utah). Allison goes to New York City expecting those people, of all people, can put aside her identity so she can be a fancy playwright.
This is a play about how they absolutely, comically, ridiculously, cannot.
But Allison is ultimately having none of that. She doesn’t want to deal with their preconceptions about her. She just wants to make art. And in the end, Allison realizes that the place and the people to whom she belongs and even the place where she can make art, is at home in Utah, which surprises even her. A lot of us, I think, have had to either find or make our place in the world. We tell young people “it gets better” but a lot of the time it doesn’t just get better by itself, like a fairy tale. We have to struggle and work and find ways to make it better. We have to actively search for the place and the people to whom we belong. And sometimes we can’t figure out what that place should be until we try out a bunch of places and realize what we need and want. And sometimes the places we find what we need and want surprise even us.
So this is a play about that.
Jenny Kokai teaches at Weber State University. Her new play Singing to the Brine Shrimp premieres at Plan-B Theatre February 13–23. Tickets and info at planbtheatre.org.