Local Boston fringe theatre troupe Sleeping Weazel is presenting Birth Breath Bride Elizabeth at the inaugural The Next Thing (TNT) Festival. Ken Prestininzi, author and director of the hour-long one-woman show, provides ArtsEmerson audiences with exclusive insight into his creation of this one-of-a-kind performance piece.
How would you characterize Birth Breath Bride Elizabeth?
It’s definitely an unconventional play. The plot centers on “mad” academic Mary Shelley-Breath who is undone by her own lecture and unleashes in front of us the monsters that we all try to hide under the bed— monsters made from our identification with and irrational horror of feminism, Frankenstein and a young bride’s wedding anxieties. It’s a crackpot lecture gone awry. The play is harrowing and absurd. We watch a creative mind become possessed by today’s fears of what a Woman might think, do and be.
What or who inspired the piece?
The play is composed of the many voices that possess the heart, mind, body and soul of the character Dr. Mary Shelley-Breath and of feminist scholars today. I was a scholar and fellow for a year at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University and I wanted to put on stage the great arguments and emotional upheavals that true scholarship can cause. Ever since I learned about her life as a child, Mary Shelley has always fascinated me. Her creative process (the story that possessed her, that came to her unbidden) and her relationship to her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, drew me in. Marriage and creation, love’s imagination and monsterhood, the need to create, the want to control what one feels with will and reason—all of these were opened up to me by Mary Shelley’s story and made me look at my own creative needs and relationship to my emotions centered on my mother.
I also always thought Elvis Presley moved like Boris Karloff, and he elicited an emotional response from me like the Creature played by Karloff did. I wanted to simply bring that to the forefront. I wanted to understand why Princess Diana was a pop culture Monster and Saint. I’m a big fan of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, and the clown monsters of appetite Pere Ubu and Mere Ubu in his plays. The battle between reason, will, anarchy and appetite rages in all these images and icons. The relationship of mother and daughters, and how that love can be inarticulate and overwhelming beyond reason intrigues me.
Of course, my own wild imaginings and supernova failures as a professor trying to give a lecture that makes sense of my inner truth enters into the piece as well.