Pinkolandia2Gaby (Andrea Morales) encounters an inhabitant of PINKOLANDIA — a private world shared by two displaced sisters from Chile, and a play by Andrea Thome that’s on stage now at Two River Theater.

Just days after striking the set from Mr. Shakespeare’s fanciful Forest of Arden, the folks at Two River Theater Company got busy realizing another setting where occasional magic, romance, poetry and acts of heroism happen — a little place called Pinkolandia.

Don’t bother checking the map. Take it instead to the “black box” Marion Huber Theater inside Two River’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace, where a couple of young sisters named Gaby (Andrea Morales) and Beny (Maria Helan) have escaped with their family from their native Chile in the days of the Pinochet dictatorship, to the cold and alien landscape of Reagan-era Wisconsin. It’s there in the Badger State of the 1980s that “the girls create imaginary worlds to make sense of their family’s past, as their parents (Annie Henk, Varin Ayala) try to find their own place in the American Dream — knowing that sometimes, when you lose your country, you have to make your own.”

It’s also there that the realities of the outside world — and the not-so easily left behind past — intrude with the appearance of Beny and Gaby’s uncle Ignacio (David Crommett). Gabriel Sloyer rounds out the cast under the direction of Jose Zayas, in the play by Andrea Thome that continues in previews Tuesday through Thursday, and opens Friday night, February 28.

A “rolling world premiere” project produced through NYC’s Lark Play Development Center, Pinkolandia saw fully staged productions at New York’s INTAR Theatre and in Austin, TX last year — and moves on to an engagement in Chicago following the conclusion of its Red Bank run on March 23. For the Two River team under artistic director John Dias, it represents the company’s first mainstage production to evolve from the annual Crossing Borders Festival, where it was presented as a reading in the summer of 2012.

For the playwright — who grew up in Madison, WI with her Chilean mother and Costa Rican father — Pinkolandia represents a public triumph that’s interlaced with personal family history. An actor, author, dancer and sought-after translator, Andrea Thome (who’s not to be confused with this wife of the baseball slugger Jim Thome) has forged an eclectic resume of activity that sprawls from the West Coast (where she founded the Red Rocket Theater Company in San Francisco) to the East (where she serves as co-director of the “New York-based satire collective” known as Fulana). She’s also a very engaging person to have a conversation with, and your upperWETside Control Voice was pleased to speak with her during a “delightful, peaceful” week of rehearsals in Red Bank. Read on…

AndreaThomeCOLORPINKOLANDIA playwright Andrea Thome will appear at Two River Theater as part of a panel discussion on “Launching a New Play into the Repertoire of Great American Theater,” following the matinee performance on Sunday, March 2.

upperWETside: PINKOLANDIA has visited Red Bank once before, during one of Two River’s Crossing Borders festivals. Has the play changed, evolved to any significant degree, since the summer of 2012? 

ANDREA THOME: It depends on what you consider evolution. It’s all part of a process…I had brought in an early version that was two and a half hours long; a real sprawling exploration of this family’s world. During that first production in New York I did a lot of rewriting…then when we did it in Austin in October, I did some tweaks and rewrites. So hopefully by the end of the fourth engagement I’ll have some idea of what my play is!

You really need to see it on its feet; living and breathing — the girls’ imagination really comes alive when you see this play in a fully staged form. There’s a lot of language that’s not necessarily verbal…music and sound play an important role…and, well, there’s a bear!

It seems as though John Dias and Two River Theater took an early and avid interest in this script. 

The idea, with the Lark Play Development Center, was to get four theaters together; to have the various artistic directors all be part of the conversation. So there was a lot of cross pollination, and John was very much part of that conversation — Two River did the reading in 2012, and then they sponsored an additional reading.

Rolling world premieres don’t necessarily mandate that the same actors and directors are going to be working on the various productions in different cities, but is anyone involved with the Red Bank engagement carrying over from the New York or Austin productions? 

Jose Zayas, who directed the reading in 2012, has worked with me for a long time, and he and a couple of the actors from the INTAR production are all coming to Red Bank. Maria Helan, who played Beny back in 2009, is back with the play — she’s kind of grown up with it!

Your various bios have you tagged as a “Chilean-Costa Rican, Wisconsin-born mutt,” and I’m reasonably sure there’s a healthy autobiographical streak running through PINKOLANDIA. But I’m not aware of there ever having been any kind of robust Chilean or Costa Rican community in Wisconsin… 

There were very few Latin Americans in Wisconsin when I grew up there in the 1970s and 80s! There were a lot of communities, though, certain towns that were so old-world that they were still speaking German, Norwegian, Polish — keeping the language and the culture alive. When you have so little contact with your heritage, you do like the girls in Pinkolandia and carry their country with them; their own world.

My father’s father was an Alsatian immigrant, who jumped on a ship, to see the world, be a merchant marine, and ended up in Costa Rica — which is how my father was born. My dad grew up mostly in L.A., but his work later took him to Chile, which is how he met my mother. So yes, I’m proud to be a mutt — a hybrid is a beautiful thing!

There’s so much contained inside each of us, you know — we’re so many things as a country, and as individuals. I wish we were less afraid of each other…there’s no such thing as ethnic purity, or purification. We share all kinds of ideas, language with each other, and we don’t get rid of them so easily.

Language plays an even bigger part in your overall career, since you’ve become quite the in-demand translator of works by Spanish-speaking playwrights — including NEVA by Guillermo Calderón, which opened at the Public Theater last year. 

I’ve never translated a dead playwright…I try to understand the playwright, and when you’re also a playwright yourself, it makes for an interesting dance around. Sometimes you can’t translate literally…you have to ask how this play can still affect the audience in the same way, when it’s presented in an entirely different language. I try to be true to the original artist.

I used to be a dancer, you know, and the way I work…a lot of my works are generated on my feet. As a dancer you have your own body’s way of expressing yourself, and when you work with a new choreographer, you develop different muscles. Same as when you work with a director, another playwright…you develop new creative muscles.

A bit off-topic from PINKOLANDIA, but tell us about the new project that you’re developing with the MabouMines company in the city…it’s been described as a “multidisciplinary” piece, and I’m curious as to what that’s about…

It’s called The Necklace of the Dove, and it’s based on a work of that name by the 11th century Islamic philosopher-poet Ibn Hazm — he left this incredible rich legacy of works on science and theology; a lot of his translated works have been said to have spurred the Renaissance. One of the amazing things was that Spain, where he lived, was Jewish, Muslim, Christian, all living together for 800 years.

Anyway, it’s a theatrical exploration of this incredible book that he wrote about aspects of love — it’s kind of a precursor to the novel as we know it, to things like Don Quixote, and it’s written in what you have to say is a very intimate way for its age. And, working with the people at MabouMines, who gave us this incredible opportunity to create in this space, I related it to this community in Queens of transgendered women. It may sound wacky, but there are connections between Dove and some of the stories that these characters tell each other when they get together. It’s about the ways that people cross borders and assimilate.

What you just said could apply to PINKOLANDIA as well, and I’m sure it’s a theme that runs through just about every piece of writing you’ve done. 

That’s true, when I think about it…sometimes it takes other people looking at your work to tell you what it’s all about!

One more very important question. Does a New Jerseyan have any right to bitch about winter to a Wisconsonian? 

Ha! Even in New York, where you would figure they’d be used to this sort of thing, I’m having to tell ’em ‘people, get over yourselves…it’s Winter! Twenty years ago, Winter was like this!’

Take it here for tickets ($20 – $65 for adults; age-based, group and military discounts available) for PINKOLANDIA, which opens on Friday, February 28 and continues its limited engagement through March 23. 

Check the Two River website for info on additional special events at the theater’s Victoria G. Mastrobuono Library — including a special Loser Slam Poetry Slam (March 3) and Book Club event (March 9), as well as a panel following the March 2 matinee (on “Launching a New Play into the Repertoire of Great American Theater”) featuring Thome, John Dias and representatives of the other theaters premiering PINKOLANDIA.

TRTC has also inaugurated a new Inside Two River series of community events on the topic of civil rights and racial equality, presented under the banner “An Exploration of Justice,” and keyed to the upcoming April production of the Alice Childress play TROUBLE IN MIND. The series continues on Monday March 17 with a free 7 pm guest lecture by Columbia University professor Dr. Farah Griffin, on the challenges facing African Americans in the 1950s.

And the busy month of March finds the Two River team partnering with Newark’s  on an all-African American concert production of Meredith Willson’s Broadway classic THE MUSIC MAN. More on that production — which plays six performances in Red Bank on March 13-16 — coming up, right here on the upperWETside.