Queer as Folk Actor Cuts Writer Teeth on Play with Stunning Results
By Melanie Nathan, 03/25/2012
A small Los Angeles theater hosted twelve prized guests, treated to the first read of “Transcending Maggie.” Collectively enticed by the first time playwright, at the utterance of the last line we all jumped up, cheered and agreed that Michelle Clunie’s maddening and whimsical exploration of humor, love, sex and politics is headed for acclaim.
Following her riveting portrayal of Abbey Prescott in LaBute’s West Coast Premiere of the “Mercy Seat,” where Clunie outperformed Jane Fonda and the entire cast of “God of Carnage,” earning best performance on the LA Stage from Backstage Readers, she is set now to stage this new chapter, in her career and it is one that marries the provocative and the progressive, in a manner that shatters almost all the rules, crossing dimensions as it tests our sense of right and wrong.
“Transcending Maggie” is set in the same year the U.S. elected President Barack Obama. The intense romance of the period is a backdrop for a couple, deeply in love, who share a unique passion for America and the Progressive movement.
Defying first read the vivid realism portrayed through the writing presented a brilliant simplification of a complex existential realm which transcends time through metaphorical notions that work magically through the character transformation.
Clunie has been working on the play for over two years and explains “I was completely and absolutely exhausted from The Mercy Seat and think I have just recently recovered. So the writing was a process filled with lots of triumph and frustrations as well.”
It would seem that Clunie had harbored the idea of writing for some time. “Since my twenties when I worked on Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall,” I have kept a copy of the work on my bed-stand ever since. I always thought a female version of the play would work nicely; the Maggie character from that play would have made a better lead than the Quentin character; a play where Maggie is the one taking inventory of her life to see what it all adds up to.”
“Transcending Maggie” has only two characters and Maggie is taking inventory of her relationship. Much like Miller’s play Clunie’s jumps from past to present to future and then she takes it a step further, as the audience will see, crossing boundaries and breaking rules.
As with her acting, in this her first play, Clunie’s bravery commands her art. The venture of this play parallels Michelle’s fearlessness. While many in the entertainment industry may have scoffed at the risk in playing a breakthrough lesbian character, as she took on lesbian lawyer Melanie in “Queer As Folk,” Clunie not only embraced the character, but realized the worth of Melanie’s contribution long after the series was over, and at the risk of being typecast went on to personify her part in her off screen contributions to equality.
So to the question, “who were you Michelle when you wrote this play?” She acknowledges, “for it to really have my stamp on it, it has to involve breaking the rules. I really wanted to play with time and space because I believe in the metaphysical. I can feel people when they are not around. I think time and space is a joke that soon in the next 1000 years, (if we survive climate change and can convince people to take care of Mother Earth) that people in the future will look back and snicker at us and the fact that we were completely unaware of the world behind the world, the metaphysical.”
Clunie explains, “I try to break reality as soon as it starts to get too solid;” and so “Transcending Maggie” shirks the rules of intimacy and sexuality, and so just as with her acting, in this debut, Clunie pushes all boundaries.
“Theater has the power to revolutionize,” she reminds, “It is a place where one can say what the press and everyone else is to afraid to say; the truth of Miller, the poetry of Williams, the philosophy and satire of Paddy Chayefsky… the explosiveness of Shanley. To me, American theater will always contain the seeds of revolution and social commentary. It is one of the most exciting places in the world to be, on an American stage. I love it, I could sleep there if they would let me. I let it go for years doing TV but ever since I went back in January it’s like I have been reunited with my lost love.”
“Transcending Maggie” is like taking a journey; with impetuous humor providing sanctuary for the audience at intense moments in the play, only then to be transported back to the grip of the intensity.
I wondered if Clunie’s character reflected her own humor, “I did feel as though the character had my humor,” she told me, “and my oddball sense of what I find funny in life, which is almost everything.”
So what was the biggest challenge seemed the most obvious question to ask? “I think as in all art, it is getting down to the truth, your truth. I think the hardest part of writing was stripping everything away and getting down to that truth. And the funny thing is as soon as you are down there…you find more…and it goes deeper and your perspective opens up to a new level and you see a more profound, deeper truth and then you say, I give – I surrender.”
She continues, “That is when you bow down to the mystery of it all and accept the mystery of life. So I guess in that respect I am similar to the lead character.”
The character Maggie is seeking something real and truthful in her life and she is in a relationship where she refuses to give up until she gets it. She is on the journey of the mind, body, and soul that craves someone real to share it all with and she will not stop until she finds its perfection.
“I think through the writing of the play I found answers to many of my own questions,” and so Clunie says, “the experience has made me a more compassionate person.”
Clunie shows that human beings are indeed complex, “I am not sure one can pick and choose what parts of being human one wants to deal with as we come as an all inclusive package, and so if you love someone you have to accept that entire person!”
Hard to believe, and yes this is Michelle Clunie’s first play as a writer and it is extraordinarily powerful. One can only imagine what clout a full production will muster, given the power of the tantalizing first read!
The Play will open in September, 2012.