INTERVIEW: DREW LARIMORE on His New Play Smithtown and the Consequences Technology Can Have On Us
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Drew Larimore was kind enough to let me interview him about his new play, SMITHTOWN. The show which is now available through March 13, which is a two week extension than was originally planned due to brisk and popular demand.
Produced by The Studios of Key West, the play follows four residents of Smithtown, a fictional Midwestern university town, who unwittingly and arguably become “victims” of technology gone awry. A college professor ignites a local tragedy by texting questionable photographs to his ex-girlfriend. A sleep-deprived “text angel” sends a well-meaning text at the exact wrong moment. A struggling artist plays fast and loose with morality to get ahead. A grieving mother turns to social media to fill the emptiness left by a lost child.
Incisively dark and funny, SMITHTOWN shines a spotlight on the ways we communicate, and miscommunicate, in a rapidly evolving digital era, when the rules of conduct change by the minute, and loneliness and isolation seem to be the order of the day.
SMITHTOWN is running as an online streaming event through Saturday, March 13. Running time is 65 minutes. Tickets are $15 for Studio Members and $20 for non-members. To purchase tickets, click here.
How did you come up with the idea to write Smithtown?
Well, I'm fascinated with the shared responsibility (or burden) that technology poses. Is a text just a text? Can't a text or a Tweet or a status update create a rallying cry for small and large-scale movements, tragedies and misunderstandings? And if so, who is responsible for that? The person who initially wrote that rallying cry--the one that shared it on a thread with others? As Michael Urie's character, Ian Bernstein, says in the opening segment: Is it one domino in a row or a select few?
Thematically, technology piques my interest, but you can't write a play about a theme. I fell in love with these characters first and then worked backwards--determining what their role was in this tragedy that links them all together and how they fit into the larger picture. Each of these characters really intrigue me: the horrifying unfolding of Ian Bernstein's opening monologue, the contrast of Bonnie's tragedy with her bubbly personality, the misunderstood struggling artist that's evident in Eugene, a delusional mother, Cindy, clinging desperately to technology to keep her daughter alive. If successful, this play is really like a Russian matryoshka doll set, where one reveals more about the other until it reaches its heart's core.
What can Smithtown teach us about technology and the dangers and darkness that really lies within it?
Well, if you don't use technology mindfully, it can have dire consequences. In that respect, this play is a real specter, a dire warning. I really believe that social media platforms and other digital spaces have been refuges for careless communication and thoughtless, toxic contact. There's another person on the other side of that laptop or smartphone screen. We are still learning this and Smithtown is an extreme--albeit common, if you look at newspaper headlines--example of that.
What do you want people to take away from watching Smithtown?
I hope audiences will take in the humanity of these characters--their hilarity, faults and idiosyncrasies, however misguided. I hope they put a face to the domino effect that using technology mindlessly can cause.
How can we use Smithtown as an example to ourselves to be better humans?
Eek, I am in no way qualified to write plays that teach folks to be better people. I don't think that's my job as a playwright. What I hope I've done with these four complex and dynamic characters is weave together an interconnected story that makes audiences ask questions. Not just questions about their relationship to technology, but how they communicate with others, how they look out for one another, their own role as a domino in a row of others.
What did you learn about yourself while writing this?
I learned to trust the heart's core of a story. I did a lot of cutting and splicing in rehearsals for Smithtown. "You can get to this reveal sooner, you've already got us hooked"--is what I kept hearing. A good idea is a good idea. It's fun to dance around it as a writer, but at the end of the day, trust it and go full speed ahead. That was pretty cool.
What do you hope the future plans for Smithtown will be? Do you see it being performed in a theater one day?
Absolutely. I want to see this play produced live in front of an audience. I hope it has a rich life speaking to audiences both digitally and in-person.