'NEXT OF KIN' - PLAY INHERITS FROM RON SIMONIAN'S LIGHTER SIDE
April 27, 2006 By ROBERT TRUSSELL Publication: The Kansas City Star
Ron Simonian is 40. He says he's a changed man. He says he's older and wiser. And wants people to know he doesn't just write plays about people shooting each other or chopping people they love into little bits."A lot of people thought of me as, oh, it's Ron, there's gonna be guns, there's gonna be a lot of the f-word," Simonian says with a tinge of regret in his voice.There's a reason people think what they do about Simonian's plays. It has to do with the ones that were produced in Kansas City, most of them at the Unicorn Theatre, in the 1990s. Consider these titles:"Thanatos," in which disaster relief workers face their own mortality in a motel room at the edge of hell; in its final minutes the play erupts in gunfire."Bagheads," a satire in which cannibalism becomes a metaphor. The central character is a psychologist who develops an interesting "eating disorder.""At the Feet of Doves," a two-character play about hired killers burying one of their victims in the woods while waiting for delivery of a cash payment; more gunfire."Arms and Legs," a black comedy about media exploitation with a central figure whose main talent is dismembering people."Zone 3," a dark satire about professional assassins working for an ultra-secret arm of the government.There was one notable exception to the Simonian plays produced in the '90s: "Desert Holiday," a relatively gentle comedy about a traveling toilet salesman who picks up a hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of highway and embarks on a quirky journey of the soul. It contained all of Simonian's best eccentricities without the violence.But Simonian insists that "Desert Holiday" was actually the second full-length play he ever wrote. He has always written stuff like that. And his new play, "Next of Kin," is much closer in tone to "Desert Holiday" than any of this other pieces.The premise: Adult siblings gather to honor their mother's birthday, only to discover that she has been dead for years."I think it was like 1992," Simonian recalls. "I was sitting in my office - this little office in my house - and there was this radio story about a woman in France who had been dead for seven years. And then it just hit me: I bet her son feels embarrassed. And I said: 'Wait a minute - that's a play.' So I started writing this show back then and I got probably a little more than a third finished and then I couldn't figure out where it should go. So I just put it away."Then, about six years ago, he experienced a double trauma: His father died and he got a divorce within the space of a couple of months. Only then could he figure out how to finish his play."It took a lot of things in my life to change," he says. "And I think when my dad passed away everything became clear as to how this show should go ... It all started adding up over time, and I kind of realized what the show needed to be about. It's one of my favorites now."Simonian never really dropped out of theater, but he did take a step back. He was trying to support himself entirely by writing, and he got burned out. He wrote children's scripts for Science City. He wrote 65 or 70 scripts for a mystery dinner theater. He says he just needed a break."It was just too much writing," he says. "And when you write it's like mowing the yard, where you end up getting very introspective with yourself. I think I just needed a few years to not think, and I came out of it about a year-and-a-half ago. Another thing that's all warped is my sense of time. I can never tell. Was it last week or three years ago? It's all fuzzy."Simonian says that he has a good relationship with his 10-year-old son and his former wife and that life doesn't seem as dark as it once did. He also has different expectations about writing. He worries less about what critics or the public may think and prefers to concentrate on the play."It's funny to get older and look back at yourself," he says. "I thought I knew everything. I didn't. But I think being a father has helped me understand a lot about life. When I look back at the shows I wrote when I was in my 20s it seems like all the characters were in their 20s and 30s. Now they're kind of all ages. I think at this age you kind of have a grip on most ages of life."It's true. All of Simonian's plays have revealed to some extent a philosophical view of life. His best plays are like anthropological studies of human behavior. Now he's at a stage of life where he talks more like an old philosopher than an audacious, brash young maverick."I love glorious reviews, but I'm not gonna worry," he says. "I'm just gonna do the work and let it fall where it is. Some people are gonna like my work, and some aren't. When you're younger, you want everyone to love what you do. And when you get older, you just want your stuff to be produced."That's the joy of it. Acceptance is gravy if people like it. And I want the theater to do well. I don't want it to be a detriment to their business to do my work. But at least now I think I'm writing purely for the story."OPENING FRIDAYThe final preview of Ron Simonian's "Next of Kin" will be at 8 tonight at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St. The show opens Friday and runs through May 21. Tickets cost $15-$25. Visit unicorntheatre.org or call (816) 531-7529.(DAVID PULLIAM)DAVID PULLIAM/The Kansas City Star_04212006_Kansas City playwright Ron Simonian on the set of his play ''Next of Kin'' at the Unicorn Theatre, 3820 Main Street. Kansas City Star, The (MO) Date: April 27, 2006 Page: 28 Copyright 2006 The Kansas City Star Co.