Monday, January 14, 2019

2018 Interview with Playwright Jason Karasev

The Road Theatre on Lankershim is proud to present the world premiere of Death House by Jason Karasev that first bowed as a staged reading in August of 2017 at the Road's Summer Playwrights Festival. It's a scintillating look at prisons and the death sentence as told through the struggles of an inmate on death row, the prison chaplain attending to her and the new pastor. Each week through March 10 we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week, with the play set to open on Friday January 18, we shine the light on Death House's playwright Jason Karasev.

What was yur inspiration for creating Death House?

Upon viewing Into The Abyss, a documentary by one of my favorite filmmakers Werner Herzog, I was fascinated by the journey of an individual who was interviewed, in brief, within the film. Although he was not the primary focus of the documentary, this individual, a former “Death House Chaplain,” ignited an initial question that would become the impetus for writing Death House. I began very crudely, asking myself, “Who would want to do this job?” The job, as it were, entails sitting with an inmate during their last 6 hours of life, within a slightly nicer facility than their primary cell; this space is called the Death House (aptly named for its nearness to the execution chamber about 10-15 feet outside of the room). This Chaplain helps to facilitate the famous last meal, and potentially a shower, change of clothes, journaling, counseling, etc., before helping to walk the inmate to their execution and assisting in the execution process itself (the activities and the room vary from state to state, and prison to prison). Seeing the great regret this Chaplain had in retrospect of his career created the central dramatic lynchpin for my play: What would it be like if we could speak to our younger selves; to confront regrets and mistakes, while struggling to understand our own selves through that lens? This sparked the dynamics for the rest of play, which I will not give away, but will address in a general manner in terms of some of the themes I hoped to touch upon.

Tell our readers about these themes.

I wanted to force my characters, and audience, to wrestle with many of the questions we choose to ignore every day: What is justice, who deserves redemption, how do we deal with tragedy, and can we truly grow and change as individuals and as a collective? I also hoped to exemplify that, although we may feel we are moving through a disparate world, we are more connected and more in need of one and other than we could ever imagine. Even for those who have not had someone run through our justice system, or specifically on Death Row, the Death House serves as a microcosm for the fine line we walk together as humans; a place where we must all face our inner demons and decide how we will proceed, both for ourselves and future generations we may influence. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from experiencing the play?

The play asks those with differing perspectives, backgrounds, and struggles to come face-to-face with one another and live, if only for a moment, in someone else’s shoes. Given the anger and discord that has been in the air the last few years in the United States, and globally, I feel there is no better time for us to get to the core of these struggles. To truly pause and assess the undeniable things that bind us all: the fragility of life and the universality of death.

Death House plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through March 10 at the historic Lankershim Arts Center at 5108 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Arrive early to ensure street parking.

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