MS, the one-woman play by writer Molly Fonseca, isn’t exactly an autobiographical work, but it’s pretty close to being one.
“Yeah, it is [about me], more or less,” Fonseca says with a bit of a laugh. “I like to tell people that the destination is the same, but Maby [Fonseca’s onstage alter-ego] takes a couple of different pit stops.”
The play is about a young woman studying to be an actor, who is diagnosed with MS. That’s just what happened to Fonseca 16 years ago, and she created a one-woman play based on the experience a few years later.
“I wrote this play while I was a grad student,” Fonseca says. “It was just a way for me to tell a story that feels universal in that it’s about grief and loss and accepting that and dealing with all of the emotional aspects that come with a diagnosis. It was just a way to kind of share that story and connect with people.”
Fonseca has performed the play herself before, but for this production, she’s directing, while the role of Maby is played by Anikka Levken, Fonseca’s partner in The Broad Theatre, their new theater company. For Fonseca, letting go of a character that she based on herself wasn’t immediately easy.
“At first, it was weird hearing someone else say the words,” Fonseca says, adding that she had to ask herself “As the director and someone who has performed this – and it’s about me – how do I step back and allow it to become Anikka’s?”
Levken says she found it easy to relate to Maby; the character’s based on Fonseca, but isn’t so different from Levken herself.
“Maby and I share a bunch of interests in common, and she has a similar tendency to go on and on about things she enjoys, so I found that in common with the character,” she says. “And then also, I think there is something universal about experiencing grief and dealing with difficult emotions and transitionary points in life.”
Fonseca does point to one key difference between herself and Maby.
“I think she handles [the MS diagnosis] surprisingly better than I did,” Fonseca says. “Maby … kind of gets to an acceptance place within the time frame of, like, a summer. But for me, I obviously didn’t handle it as gracefully as she did. And it probably took me several years, and then writing this play and then performing it. It was very scary at first. I mean, it still feels scary. But I certainly do feel like I have healed because of it, and sharing that story and connecting with people.”
‘MS’ is onstage at the Pony Shed at the Vortex Theatre on Aug. 15 and 22 at 8:30 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 8:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are free, but reservations are recommended.