LIFE IS SEX AND THEN YOU DIE OK, NOT QUITE, BUT `THANATOS' EXPLORES THOSE THEMES
January 22, 1994 By ROBERT TRUSSELL Publication: The Kansas City Star
Sex and violence - without them would there be dramatic art? Probably not. Next week the Unicorn Theatre opens "Thanatos," a two-act play by local playwright Ron Simonian that explores those ever-intriguing subjects. "Thanatos" was the name the Greeks gave to a personification of death, and it is also a term used in psychoanalysis to describe the death instinct, especially in the form of violent aggression. Indeed, the true subject of the play, Simonian said in an interview, is death - how we deny it, how we think about it, how we embrace it and how it relates to our sexuality. The basic question posed by the play is this: "Does the fact that we know we're going to die make us relish life more, or does that kind of take the flavor out of life? " Simonian said. "I'd always wanted to write a play that would hit on those topics. " His play, the winner of the Unicorn's national play-writing competition, depicts a series of bizarre events unfolding in a motel room occupied by two Red Cross disaster-relief officials. Director Cynthia Levin said the play reminded her of the work of David Mamet and Sam Shepard but she also encountered a unique sensibility. "I think we'll be seeing a lot more of him," Levin said. Simonian named David Mamet as his favorite playwright and "Thanatos," like much of Mamet's work, blends startling conflicts with a brutal sense of humor. Simonian studied film and theater at the University of Kansas. He said he wrote and directed student films in college but turned to playwriting because movies, even small movies, are prohibitively expensive to make. A play, on the other hand, can be staged at minimal expense and Simonian gets to seek his work interpreted by a director and actors. "Thanatos" was staged once before, in a semiprofessional production directed by Scott Cordes, but the Unicorn production will be the play's first fully professional staging with Equity actors. But back to the play. One area explored by Simonian is the relationship between sex and death. "Whenever people are confronted with death they feel the urge to mate," Simonian said. "When we're surrounded by severe trauma we want to feel loved and it's more about power than sex. "People try to control things that are out of their reach.When we're confronted with death, we feel weak. The one thing we can control is the physical manifestation of love. " One character, Simonian said, distills the notion that "there's a certain romance to death. " Reflecting on society and the theater, Simonian said: "There's a lot of violence associated with sex today. It's amazing how people can be afraid to watch a play about violent themes, or a movie with violent themes, but add the element of sex into it and suddenly they're interested. " The cast of the Unicorn production features Phil Fiorini, Bill Harper, Tess Brubeck, Walter Coppage and Dan Barnett. Previews begin Wednesday. The show opens Friday and runs through Feb. 6. Call 531-7529 for ticket information. The Kansas City Star Date: January 22, 1994 Page: E1 Copyright 1994, 1996 The Kansas City Star Co.