Playwright Mallery Avidon, the only daughter of hippies, was raised in Seattle, where she and her family shared a house with two other families until she was 4. Inspired by her parents, who were both in theater (her father was also a poet), she took up acting at age 5.
“They tried to get me into other things like dance, sports, what kids do at that age, but I was only interested in theater,” she says from her Brooklyn apartment. Like Lila, the main character from her play “O Guru, Guru, Guru – or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you” – which begins its run at Carolina Actors Studio Theater on Friday – Avidon grew up in an ashram.
“O Guru Guru Guru” is one of four of Avidon’s plays that premiered in 2013 (“That’s not usual for me,” she says). It’s a comedy about a frustrated woman who realizes that growing up in the aforementioned spiritual hermitage (ashram) doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have adulthood figured out.
The play, which premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky., in April, is staged in three unusual acts. The first is a yoga class; the second features shadow puppets; and the third finds our heroine on the set of “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts. Like her early life, Avidon’s structure, use of celebrities, and characters with imaginary friends aren’t quite what you’d call traditional.
“There aren’t celebrities in all my plays,” she laughs (versions of Brad Pitt and Eric Dane pop up in another play, “queerSpawn”). “It just so happens that these three (plays) all came out one after the other.”
Of her willingness to write outside the (black) box, she says: “I was working at (Brooklyn’s) Target Margin Theater and seeing all these non-narrative, nontraditional plays – some not even written by playwrights. I’m (also) a product of the MTV generation even though I didn’t have cable (or Internet) and I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 25. Now there’s not as much structure, even on television and books. If you go back … and look at TV story lines in the ’80s, there would be two story lines and now there’s all these story lines.”
Avidon’s work often revels in pop culture while casting a critical eye its way. “Guru,” for instance, raises questions about the commercialization of spirituality. But you don’t have to be in the know about downward-facing dog to follow the story. “If you’ve never been to yoga class, don’t know anything about Hinduism, or haven’t even read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – which I haven’t – this leads you into that world.”
She says her next play may be something more traditional, though.
“I quit smoking a month ago and I’ve been writing a new play on my iPhone on the subway, because you can’t smoke on the subway. It’s four characters in an apartment, which seems more challenging to me than my normal rule-breaking,” she explains. “Rule-breaking is almost easier.”
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