Arts Listings

Playwright Comes To Town for ‘Future Me’ Premiere

By Ken Bullock, Special to The Planet
Tuesday April 08, 2008

Future Me is about how society deals with its monsters,” said British playwright Stephen Brown, “what we do with people who’ve done terrible things.” 

Brown, visiting to catch TheatreFirst’s U.S. premiere of his play at the Berkeley City Club, summarized its point of departure: a bright, young, successful London barrister is about to move in with his girlfriend, with everything going well, when his computer sends out an e-mail to everybody in his address book with child pornography attached.  

The play follows him over the next five years, into and back out of prison, showing the people he meets (two other sex offenders, a probation officer who works in a treatment program) and the impact his troubles have on his girlfriend and his brother. 

“It deals with desire and anger, with what happens when our reasonable mind hits the iceberg of our buried visceral reactions, when we don’t know what to think,” said Brown. “Ungoverned desire provokes ungoverned anger. It’s slow burning. How to stay calm, think clearly—to punish, rehabilitate? When does punishment end? And what does it mean to say you’re sorry?” 

Brown emphasized Future Me is in no way a tract or merely an educational problem play: “It has a lot of black humor in it. How do humans cope with strong emotions on a day-to-day basis? Maybe by laughing a lot, not beating their chests. It also has a lot of story.” 

Brown, who’s written plays professionally “for four or five years,” started out as “a freelance journalist working in publishing,” publishing and writing for the British political magazine Prospects for the better part of a decade, then writing theater reviews for Prospects, the Times Literary Supplement and others. 

Clive Chafer, TheatreFirst’s cofounder and director of Future Me, had read reviews of the play last summer. “I’d been looking for a play on this subject,” he said. “Then in September I picked up a copy of the script in the bookstore of the National Theatre before a show, read half of it standing in the shop, then at intermission—even though the play was good—went to a pub and read the second half. By the end, I was wrung out. It’s the final taboo, which has reduced intelligent and rational people to monosyllables. We’ll have six post-show discussions with professionals who are in the rehabilitation field. We certainly want to make people think—but it’s important to remember it’s a play, not an essay.”  

Brown stressed how “very exciting it is for me to see a cast of American actors, with a different style, reveal different aspects of what I’ve written. I’ve started seeing lines, scenes opened up a bit. More open emotion.” 

TheatreFirst, an Oakland-based troupe for more than 13 years, has been searching for a new home after their site at the Old Oakland Theatre on 9th Street near Broadway became unavailable last spring after a successful season, for which the company won awards from the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle. 

“It’s astonishing that a city of over 400,000 doesn’t have a professional, full-season-producing theater company,” Chafer said. 

TheatreFirst is negotiating for a space for a 99-seat theater not far from the Paramount Theater, where they will pay commerical rates, in the range of $50,000 for the year. The group receives some city funding and has also secured some private funds to help compete for commercial rents. 

“The area around the Paramount and Fox theaters is being talked about as an arts district and is coming up rapidly,” said Chafer. “We’ve planned our next season, planning to go from three to four plays.”