A conversation with playwright
David Valdes Greenwood
In preparation for the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of The Mermaid Hour, we asked playwright David Valdes Greenwood a few questions to get to know him, and the play, a little better.
How did this idea for The Mermaid Hour come about? What, if any, personal relationship do you have to the subject matter?
My college roommate transitioned in her 40s and shared with me what it was like to be a child in the 70s, knowing she was a girl but forced to conform as a boy as she grew up. I found her story powerful as someone who had also struggled in that same time period as a gay kid, a different kind (and perhaps easier) closet. As I started learning more about the topics, I talked with parents who were trying to get a handle on their children’s transitions, and while I was working on the play, friends of mine found themselves walking this path with one of their children.
This play is a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Tell us about the process and how it is that Portland came to be one of your stops.
The play was selected for the NNPN Showcase, where theatres were able to see readings of new work. Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte committed to the play immediately, followed quickly by Milagro and Borderlands (in Tucson). A few months later, Mixed Blood Theatre asked if I would collaborate with them on a musical version, which is now called Mermaid Hour: ReMixed.
This play deals with timely social and gender identity issues. What role does this production play in today’s politicized climate?
The play was meant to be universal — seeing how a modern family navigates challenges it never imagined — but also timely in the sense that there aren’t a lot of stories about this family’s specific experience. It is political simply by existing as a trans-positive story. With the current administration working to dismantle the very few protections in place for trans youth or trans people, it’s more important than ever to see faces like Vi and those who love her. But the play isn’t an us versus them: no one is demonized and no one is mocked. It recognizes that good people continually wrestle with differences on how to know what the right thing is.
Why did you decide to portray a transgender girl’s coming-of-age primarily through the lens of her parents?
I’m a dad raising a tween girl, so much of my life for years has been focused around the highs and lows of parenting, including always feeling responsible for making the right choices and not screwing up. By making the family as a trio — not just Vi — the protagonist, I’m inviting everyone into thinking about family life in a specific cultural moment. I also made sure that Vi is not just a girl in transition, but a kid with a distinct personality, who has other things to navigate (the lure of the internet, sex talk among her peers). Her parents are slogging through a time in their marriage when they aren’t communicating well and both are stressed about paying the bills, so that they too are juggling things beyond Vi’s transition. It’s not an issue play or a tract on one subject; it’s a portrait of real life, in which humans are making decisions while influenced by competing emotional and situational factors.
In terms of content and perspective, do you see this as an all-American play? How, if at all, does this play relate to the Latino community?
The play is written to be all-American in the sense that it characters span different ethnicities, gender identities, and orientations, and its themes are universal. Its connection to the Latinx community is that I wrote the character of Pilar specifically to be a mom of Cuban descent; as a Cuban-American, I’ve been writing Cubans into my plays for several years because we (and Latinx people in general) are so absent from pop culture. Pilar’s personality—hard-working, passionate, fierce about her child—reflect a lot off the Latinx moms I know, and her voice reflects how even English-speaking Latinx drop Spanish endearments into their speech.
Meet the cast and crew of The Mermaid Hour.