Interview: Playwright Cody Daigle-Orians on In The Bones
Cody Daigle-Orians is a Louisiana-born playwright, educator and arts programmer living in Hartford, Connecticut.
In his second collaboration with Huddersfield-based company, Root & Branch Productions, Daigle-Orians sees his play In The Bones relocated to the north of England. In The Bones follows the 2018 Greater Manchester Fringe Award–winning 18 Victoria.
When did you write ‘In The Bones’?
In the Bones started as a one-act, commissioned in 2014 or so by a company I used to work with in New York. It was for an evening of short plays inspired by art from the Spanish Civil War era. I wrote the funeral scene, and that should have been that. But I couldn’t let go of the family, and I wanted to spend more time thinking and writing about them. So I fleshed out their story and their world, and the full-length version was born. It had its world premiere in 2015 at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, and I got to work with my incredibly talented friend Dev Bondarin, who’s directed both shows I’ve had produced in New York.
What made you want to write a story of a young solider suffering from PTSD?
I’ve always thought the play was mostly a play about living in the aftermath. What happens to us after a crisis or a tragedy? How do we decide who we will be? And since Luke was the catalyst for the main narrative of the play, I thought it would be important for him to be an expression of that story, too. So making him a soldier, someone who experienced something really transformative in Afghanistan, someone who brings that home and has to figure out how to deal with it, felt like the right frame for the main story.
In the play we see different levels of acceptance of Luke’s sexuality. Is it important to you to explore different coming out experiences within your work?
In my work overall, it’s important to me to have queer characters exist in my stories, even when the stories aren’t necessarily about queer experience or queer identity. I sort of think it’s a more subversive kind of representation to say, “hey, here’s this story, and these characters are queer, and that’s just what happens in the world.” Not making a big deal about queer people existing in a world is kind of a radical idea. For In the Bones, I think I was trying to write about how identity is inextricable from the rest of who we are; you can’t pick and choose what parts of a person you get to love or like or engage with. That’s why the play is sort of stuffed with a lot of messy issues, and you can’t really say, “well the play is about this.” It’s about all of the things. We are all of the things. That’s just life.
The structure of the play allows the audience to take a journey with the characters, exploring how their grief affects them year on year. Was that a decision you made early on to set the ‘live’ scenes a year apart?
That’s a deliberate structural choice. I think a lot of plays about grief linger in one moment of grief, usually the immediate moment. And that’s where the play begins — the funeral, the grief is really present, it’s vibrant. I thought it would be interesting to follow grief over time, see how it changes, see how the people change, and take snapshots of what loss looks like one year out, two years out.
The previous version of In The Bones was set 2010-2013 and it’s now taking place 2013-2016. Why did you decide to update the play and why that timeframe?
In the original version of the show, the play ended at the moment in American politics when marriage equality was about to be made legal across the country. That was 2013. When Root & Branch expressed interest in mounting the play and resetting the show in the north of England, we decided that political moment wouldn’t resonate in the right way. So we shifted the play forward, to end in 2016, on the eve of the American election of Prez. No. 45 (we know who he is, no need to include his name here.) In this version of the show, the characters are reckoning with a political moment that’s all about division, about demonizing the Other. I actually like this new final scene better than the original.
This is your second collaboration with Root & Branch Productions, restaging your work in the north of England. How does it feel to have new audiences discovering your work on this side of the pond?
Not to get overly sentimental here, but it’s been a really important thing for me. I’d been on a break from playwriting for about 4 years. I hadn’t written anything new. I wasn’t coming up with new ideas for plays. I sort of thought playwriting was a thing I used to do, instead of a thing I did. Then an email shows up, and the production of 18 Victoria happens, and everyone is so ridiculously talented and kind and thoughtful. I mean… come on. It’s very cool to have my work reach people that I never thought I’d be able to reach. But the folks at Root & Branch gave playwriting back to me. I’d do anything they asked me to.
See In The Bones at the Lawrence Batley Theatre on Friday 31 May and Saturday 1 June.