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Monday, June 9, 2014

"Failure" Playwright Looks for Joy in the Face of Tragedy

Posted By on Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 8:00 AM

  • The Fail sisters in 'Failure: A Love Story'
  • Courtesy of MTC

On an impromptu road trip through Indiana with a friend, Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins, saw a cemetery with a headstone that read "Fail." Getting out to take pictures, he realized it was a marker for a whole family. This, and certain life events, inspired him to write "Failure: A Love Story," opening at the Marin Theatre Company on June 10.

"I was experiencing a lot of loss of friends and loved ones, and trying to deal with that," Dawkins said. "I was trying to figure out how to be joyous in the face of eventual tragedy. This is challenging us to ask if failure is really a bad thing. I wanted there to be a play with a negative title that you walked out of feeling like everything's okay."

The play is about the Fail sisters: Nelly, Jenny June, and Gerty. We learn in the first few minutes of the play how they will all die. But it's a love story, not a tragedy, Dawkins says.

"At the beginning of every story, we know we're going to die at the end of it," he said. "When they say, 'They lived happily ever after,' it's until they died. Everything is temporary, and hopefully we love, but in the end we all go away and how is that a completion rather than a failure?"

Dawkins, a former child actor, currently working on an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches for the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, loves working with kids.

"Every child has a specific way of learning and experiencing the world," he said. "Some blossom through soccer or the Math Olympics. If you blossom through theater, I'm here for you."

In the intro to "Failure," Dawkins encourages theaters to get creative and have fun. (MTC has chosen to ask composer and musician Chris Houston to put the play to music.)

Theaters have taken that on in wildly different ways, Dawkins says, with casts varying from five to 30.

"There's a lot of challenges in the play," he said. "There are talking clocks and a scene takes place in a lake underwater and a dog who's a pretty important character. I just write it and don't tell them how to do it. I wanted a play that would feel just as home on a stage like Marin as it would in your church basement."

"Failure: A Love Story" opens on June 10 and plays through June 29 at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets are $37-$58. For more information, call (415) 388-5208.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Emily Wilson


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