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A Closer Look: Robert Askins' THE SQUIRRELS

Playwrights’ Corner
Andrea Hiebler, a cup of coffee in her hand, looks at Rob Askins with an expression of confusion on her face as he explains something to her.

On February 28th and March 1st, audiences of The Lark's next Studio Retreat will be introduced to the furry faces of Robert Askin's new play The Squirrels, in which the greatest squirrel in the greatest tree in the greatest forest in all the land will not share his nuts. Have some questions? We thought you might. To give you "a closer look" at the play, we asked Lark Director of Scouting and Submissions Andrea Hiebler to interview Robert about some of the impulses and inspirations behind his work. And, without giving anything away, in case you're wondering we can say that yes, the caps lock key does play just as large a role in Robert's script as it does in the following exchange. Read on, and get your tickets here!


ANDREA HIEBLER: Dude, squirrels?  Squirrels?!  Tell me more about how you decided that this fable-like timeless tale of urgent relevance needed to be told through squirrels.  Other than the fact that the frogs were already taken.

ROBERT ASKINS: UUUUMMMMMM. So I’m a weirdo. Nobody will be surprised to learn that. Also I like to work outside in. I’m like, 'what haven’t I seen?' And when I say seen, I mean seen. I was a painter long before I was a writer and I like an image. I was also reading and rereading my Aristophanes and was like 'okay, satire.' Of course those plays have humans mixed with the animals. I also think that these are big times. Where choices can make and destroy us. This is not a season for nuance. This is a season for epics. I want some big gestures. Some extinction level ones. SOME ANIMAL ONES. SOME DESPERATE ONES. SOME SQUIRREL ONES.  

AH: When you were churning out pages in the Winter Writers Retreat, I remember you talking about wanting to explore the classical idea of a (male) character with a fatal flaw.  How does that take shape in this play?  How are you throwing around that dramatic weight to heighten the satire and deepen the emotional resonance of the relationships?  Do fatal flaws exist outside the theater?  DO THEY?!   

RA: Okay, hubris is the classic right? Jousting ego with the gods. That’s a really cool flaw. I just don’t know if it’s the one we need to tackle right now. Civilizations fail when wealth inequality becomes too extreme. Then violence, revolution, warfare. Why don’t we ever remember that? Why must we always hoard our nuts? I’m really tired of hippie share your toys bullshit. Lets talk brass tacks. Share your food so the proles don’t kill you and take it all. MEMORY AND APPETITE SOUND LIKE PRETTY FATAL FLAWS TO ME.

AH: There's a line that really strikes me when one character asks how they reached this point of crisis and another character says how tired she is of that conversation.  It is very much a conversation that you're opening up.  What is the balance for you between grappling with the specific genesis of current trends and movements and the cyclical nature of history repeating itself over and over again?

RA: We sing little songs. Sometimes that’s great, but sometimes the big song is drowning us. In the after math of the failure of goodness that was this election, there were so many backward looking speculations. But at the end of the day WE DID NOT FEED THE PEOPLE. I do not care about the fall of the utopia you thought you were building. I want to know why we never remember to feed the people. 

AH: I'm fascinated by the way that you portray the merging of primal needs and man-made appetites and ambitions.  Are we humans more meat or heart?

RA: I don’t know how much we are different. People and animals. Obviously I have an iPhone, and that’s great, but when the screeching hyper aggressive makes a noise so do all the other screeching hyper aggressives. I don’t think meat and heart are separate. Heart is meat and meat is heart. I just don’t trust heart to ever rule meat. We will sing about paradise in the easy times, but when it is hard or when the screeching hyper aggressive leads us to believe it is hard it will always come down to violence. That is until the singularity happens and we all are separated from our bodies.

AH: What's the best thing you've eaten so far this year?

RA: Cooked a steak yesterday. It was pretty great. 

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