Eduardo Machado directs Will Carter’s new play Barabbas, starring Gypsi Aponte and Mateo d’Amato. I talked to producer and actor Mateo about the show, and what inspired it.
LE: This play draws heavily on Christian imagery. Barabbas was the notorious criminal that the people demanded be set free, demanding that Jesus, the innocent man, face sentencing. In fact, Bara and Jesus are the characters’ names. Was that story an influence for Will?
MA: Yes. Will and I have been colleagues, buddies, and even roommates for a long time. We met while freshman at Eugene Lang College of the New School for Liberal Arts and in the 8 years I’ve known Will Carter he has always been inquisitive, studious, and motivated by social justice. From my perspective, there are three events that inspired him to write this play. 1. The Election 2. The Bible and 3. Moving to Peru.
Back in November 2016, the night of the election, Will and I were at a party watching the T.V. in disbelief as the polls started to turn away form our hopes and towards what we imagined to be a national disaster. Like us, everyone in the party was so transfixed on the screen that no one noticed when Will Carter disappeared. After we turned off the T.V. and realized he was gone, I rushed home, worried, to make sure he was okay. It turned out that, when Will realized his favorite candidate wasn’t going to win, he slipped out of the party and quite literally painted the town red by picking up a can of spray paint and expressing his deep emotions, artistically, along his anarchic path from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
It was clear to me that Will was disillusioned with authority and only saw corruption. More importantly, he was sensitive to it and deeply saddened. The second event that inspired him to write this play came from his consumption. Not of drugs or alcohol to drown the Trump sorrow, but a consumption of art. Will began to read the Bible, both New and Old Testaments, in their entirety form beginning to end. He told me that it was something he’d never done and thought it was about time he learned… At the time, I thought nothing of it, but see now that the story of Barabbas must have appealed to him then. The third and final event came after Will and I went separate ways. I stayed in New York holding town our Brooklyn pad, and he went to Lima, Peru, eventually finding himself living for over a year in Cuzco, Peru as an English teacher and translator.
At some point on this journey, Will did something that he shouldn’t have done and found himself spending the night in a Peruvian prison. Between the conditions of his jail, his disillusionment with power and clear eyes on corruption, Will took all the shit he’d consumed and puked out Barabbas. The character names are very intentional and his inspiration comes directly from Christian imagery. The play, set in the midst of political turmoil and corruption, examines morality in the face of politics asking, asking what is right and wrong in a world where we are only trying to survive?
LE: The struggle to find the difference between right and wrong is a consuming one, and one that, for someone who digs into art and ideas we face every day. How do you know when you’ve crossed a line?
MA: It really is a personal struggle. But as it pertains to life and art, I think that it comes down to the difference between morals versus ethics. Morals are what we know deep down to be right, whereas ethics are taught either by our parents or religion, etc… I think in order to make the right decisions in life, you need to examine both and make decisions balanced between what you believe to be morally and ethically right. It becomes challenging however when the two conflict. I think sometimes people sacrficie their morals at the expense of an ethical code and maybe that’s when we’ve crossed the line. Do we follow the systemic beliefs, or our own? The question of when does this cross the line is the exact question of the play.
LE: The subtitle is The Annoyance of Enlightenment. What is it about enlightenment that is so annoying?
MA: The subtitle of this play was inspired by our director, Eduardo Machado, who pointed out that no character in this story is redeemable. Like any good play, there are points that every character makes that are both strong and defendable from the audiences point of view. Two examples of enlightenment that come to mind are of Buddhism — that refers to having achieved spiritual wisdom — and the western definition of enlightenment — from the age of enlightenment — that refers to individualism and the emphasis on reason rather than tradition. A single spiritual revelation can be dangerous and even more annoying when some one can be so full of themselves. Enlightenment seems to work best in isolation… but when extended can become bumptious.
LE: Do you believe that there are people who are irredeemable? Not just characters? What does that look like?
MA: This is a tricky question, because I don’t feel like I have the individual power to decide who is and isn’t redeemable. Redemption is a personal thing and we can only really redeem ourselves in the end, it’s not up to others. Personally I think everyone is deserving of redemption. maybe life incarceration for the most vile of criminals is a form of redemption for some who really don’t belong in society… If justice is fair, then perhaps redemption is possible for anyone.
LE: How are you balancing the role of producer and actor? Do you leave one hat at the door?
MA: I’ve been acting professionally for about 10 years. I learned everything I know about theatre production from my observations as an actor and have always been fascinated by every area of theater presentation. Production can start years before. In promoting the play as a Producer to funders and designers, I’ve discovered the added benefit to the double role as opposed to the single role. The benefit being that while serving as a Producer, my actor brain has also been marinating in the world of the play for several months — much earlier than it would have otherwise. Now, the goal is to leave the Producer role at the door as soon as I go into rehearsal mode. That’s why it has been crucial to assemble a team that I can trust, like director Machado, to steer the ship. Trust is everything.
LE: Trust is an essential component of theatre, probably more so than any other art form bc of the level of intimate collaboration. Do you think it’s important to work w people who share your views or is there space in the room for divergent opinions?
MA: Working with the right people makes all the difference on whether or not you get things done. I am a firm believer in conflict in the rehearsal room. That is why trust is crucial. Trust doesn’t mean I trust you to agree with everything I think. Trust means that I trust you to challenge and check my own thoughts and work. Trust means if we fight, I know it’s about the work and not personal. I welcome divergent opinions. How else would theatre work? Trust means I can keep secrets from you as an actor to get what I want, trust means I can be free to explore and take risks… So long as no one is in physical danger, bring on the conflict. I’ve noticed a trend in which theatre is sometimes more consensual than life itself. How boring! Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Opens for previews tonight! Go check it out if you’re in NYC.