Playwright Jen Silverman grew up traveling the world. As the daughter of scientists, her father’s research and teaching brought the family to Europe, Asia and Scandinavia. That nomadic lifestyle has carried over into her work, which might find her characters anywhere from the English moors to Japan.
“Growing up that way felt very normal to me — staying too long in the same place is what (to this day still) feels strange,” Silverman said via email. “I think it had an impact on my work in that I want to see my communities onstage, and those communities are often far-flung and divergent ones. Many of my characters stand on the edges of something, looking in. And I think a lot about home — what it means to make a home, and then remake it somewhere else.”
Her latest play, “The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane,” takes Silverman to South Africa for the story of a soccer star who flees to England to avoid prosecution, but returns during the 2010 World Cup after her activist lover, the title character, goes missing.
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Silverman watched that year’s World Cup from Japan, where she crossed paths with the country’s tight-knit South African expat community. Around the same time, activist Ndumie Funda of the Capetown organization Luleki Sizwe created a petition to demand that the South African government acknowledge corrective rape — the practice meant to forcibly turn gay women straight — as a hate crime.
Those two elements converge in “The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane,” which tackles the issue in dramatic form. “Corrective rape is such a dangerous way to think about queerness — as something that can be ‘cured’ through (hetero)sexual assault,” Silverman said. It says so much both about how queerness is viewed as a sickness that needs curing, but also about the idea that heterosexuality, even when coupled with brutality, is the only model of healthy behavior.”
The play premieres this week at InterAct Theatre Company, which is known for its interest in political issues. “InterAct is willing to tackle themes and stories that are complicated, tricky, uncomfortable,” Silverman said. “They don’t shy away from uncomfortable plays. I’ve loved working with them because of their dedication to storytelling and their willingness to support this play from its inception.”
The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane
Jan. 16-Feb. 8 (opening night Jan. 21)
2030 Sansom St.