Friday, June 29, 2012

Womb For Rent

An Interview with BAPF 35 Playwright Lauren Yee

Lauren Yee
The 35th Bay Area Playwrights Festival will feature six amazing plays from the unthinkably funny to the unbelievably real. Samsara by Lauren Yee, a Bay Area native, is both. Samsara is a hilarious and heart-wrenching four-hander that collapses 25 years, two continents and one Zygote, who finally has his day in court. I recently sat down with Lauren to ask her about her new play for the BAPF. 

Click through the jump to read Lauren's interview

Samsara deals with the topic of international surrogacy. What drew you to the topic?

The genesis for Samsara started with a news article on western India, where childless couples can essentially "rent out" a womb, hiring an Indian woman to be the biological surrogate of their child. This process costs just a fraction of what the procedure would in the United States or any other part of the western world, and it attracts couples from all over the world. The idea of a whole town full of Indian women, all pregnant with someone else's child intrigued me. What pushes someone to travel halfway across the world to achieve a child made of their own genetic material, and who is the woman who would agree to deliver someone else's child?

What is the significance behind the title "Samsara"?

Titles are always tough, and after writing the first draft, I started thinking possible titles. A quick Wikipedia search always helps. One word that stood out to me, in my research, was "samsara." It has two meanings, incidentally one in Buddhism and one in Hinduism, which seemed rather fitting given the play's multicultural bent. In Buddhism, "samsara" means the process of coming into existence, where in Hinduism, it refers to the endless series of deaths, births, and rebirths we all got through. Both definitions captured what the play is about: people being born, people reinventing their lives and identities, people caught in cycles.

There are many scenes in your play set in the imagination of the characters. What inspired this? Why have so many scenes in the character's imagination rather than a straight forward setting in reality?

Samsara is actually a play in which, technically speaking, not much happens. The story is set during the last month of the surrogacy, with just a few more weeks until the baby comes out. So much of having a baby is waiting and, consequently, musing on what this baby will be like. Who it will resemble, what its preferences will be. The characters in Samsara are very much separated. Katie and Craig are a married couple now half a world apart. Suraiya, the surrogate, is stuck with this strange American man whom she has nothing in common with. It just seemed natural that the characters might use their imaginations to escape the waiting game they've found themselves in.

Speaking of which, in the play the surrogate Suraiya begins seeing the fetus growing inside her as a walking, talking person on stage. How did you decide to include the fetus as a "real" character within the play?

I go through many, many versions when I write, and Amit (the fetus that the surrogate, Suraiya, begins seeing) appeared, half out of instinct and half out of necessity. Suraiya is emotionally alone in the apartment, she's been carrying this thing inside of her for eight months. She has no one to relate to, no one to vent her frustrations to. Who better to talk to and tease out her feelings than the very fetus inside of her. Also, I was interested in exploring the possible (though imaginary) impact Suraiya might have on this child, and finding a way to manifest the physical and emotional relationship a surrogate might have with a child, even in its unborn state.

In the play, while Craig is with the surrogate in India his wife is alone in America with her imagination, which includes a dashing Frenchman from a movie. How did you decide to include him? Why French?

That's a very good question! As I've said, my plays take extreme turns, in terms of the initial idea I think I'm turning into a play and what actually comes out. I don't know how the Frenchman weaseled his way into the play, but once he did, I slowly began to see how he might be connected to everything and how he might be a surprisingly dangerous character. Samsara is also a play about multiple cultures, countries, perspectives, languages, and having a third culture represented (in addition to American and Indian) seemed right.

What significant revelations have you had while writing this play?

One question that a lot of people asked me when hearing about this play was, "do the babies come out brown?" While this wonder may sound inexplicable, it made me think about the impact that a biological surrogate might have on the child inside of her. Does the identity and intentions of the surrogate impact the fetus, however psychically?

Interestingly, even if a couple implants their own genetic material into a surrogate, the rules about who keeps the child as not as crystal clear as you'd think. Occasionally, surrogates who choose to keep the baby after delivery can actually do so, with the biological parents having little to no legal recourse.

For ticket information for Samsara and the other plays in the 35th Bay Area Playwrights Festival: Click Here

For more on Lauren Yee and her play Samsara, visit the Playwrights Foundation website or Lauren's official website

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