'Find the poetic': 'Decapitations' is a suburban family drama mixed with a ghost story
“I like to describe this play as… a family drama combined with a ghost story and sort of a mystery,” says playwright Megan Tabaque of her new play Decapitations. The play is set for its world premiere this month, but Tabaque starting work on the piece in 2017. Like a lot of her work, it’s set in what she describes as the “dirtbag strip malls of Florida’s Gulf Coast.”
“This family lives in the suburbs,” she says of the characters in Decapitations. “It's just kind of wasteland, strip mall, car dealership, just hyper-suburban. I do a lot of work to try to find the poetic and bring some mythic magic to these things that sometimes get classified in suburban life as hyper-normal or boring. But I find that they become really powerful and relatable totems when they're put on stage.
“[Decapitations] takes place on the Gulf Coast of central Florida and [centers on] this family that is a mixed-race family – they're a mixed-race family of both white and Filipino-Americans,” Tabaque says. “And a local dog goes missing in the neighborhood. And a homeowners association dispute arises where the president of the HOA accuses this family of doing something with the dog. So there's racial tension, but there's also this mystery, trying to figure out what happened to the dog. And amidst all this, there is an episode of grief that happens because this family loses their matriarch an ocean away, their grandmother who lives in the Philippines. So it's a play about what it feels like to be haunted – both literally and figuratively haunted – by things that are beyond your control, haunted by your neighbors and these forces around you, and also haunted by grief and loss and how that haunting can sometimes act as a conduit for healing across both realms.”
“I'm always really excited to kind of scratch at the intangible bits,” says Kate Taylor, the artistic director of Salvage Vanguard Theatre, which is producing the world premiere of Decapitations. “And this play is doing that with grief, with severed dimensions of self and family. And that feels really important. And as a team, doing it at Rogge Ranch House in this outside environment, I think that's a pretty extraordinary thing — to achieve those goals under the direction of Alexandra Bassiakou Shaw and this incredible team we have. I think we're gonna do some really special things. Megan's gifted us with this really strange, tender, tender world, but it's also funny and weird and, you know, the everyday is in it, so that feels pretty special.
For actor Rommel Sulit – who, like Tabaque, is of Filipino descent – Decapitations offers a rare opportunity to play a character who shares his heritage. “You know, this is the second time in my entire acting career that I've been cast as a middle aged Filipino man, which I am,” he says. “So what can go wrong? I understand who Benji is completely. I see him in myself, I see him in [my] uncles… in my family and, you know, my own father.”
Sulit says he also shares Tabqque’s connection to the suburbs. “There's a warm spot in my heart for dirtbag suburban America,” he says. “So, yeah, it's very relatable. And, I also think, just really beautiful. And… making the ordinary extraordinary, it's something we experience every night when we open our mouths and kind of, you know, connect with each other.”