Alex Riad’s new play, The Floor Is Lava, feels very of the moment, as if it were pulled from the updates on Facebook or the feeds on Twitter. The show, which is currently playing at the Flamboyan Theater in New York City, follows a group of Millennials as they struggle with life 10 years after graduating from high school.
The Floor Is Lava, directed by Jessica O’Hara Baker, is presented as part of The Farm Theater’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity and runs through July 8.
Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Riad about the new play. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.
Where did the idea for The Floor Is Lava come from?
Being a non-native New Yorker, there’s this need to justify the move with success. When I take my biannual trip home to California, everyone’s always asking me when I come home, “How are you doing?’ I’ve always interpreted that question to mean ‘Are you happy and successful?’
My first few years here the answer was a resounding yes, probably just because I was somehow paying my rent every month, while making time to write. However, as I lived out here longer, success and happiness seemed further and further away. I felt stuck in my career, like I was walking up a down escalator.
But I still had to go home and answer that f—ing question: ‘How are you doing?’ It became easier to lie and pretend. Hold it all in and put on a bullsh– happy face. Friends and family won’t notice, especially if I’m always posting happy pictures on Facebook in between visits.
I started writing The Floor Is Lava to start trying to tell the truth, explore what it’s like to come home and hide amongst friends instead of actually connecting to them, while also investigating the role social media plays in keeping our relationships at a distance and the facade up.
What are you hoping audiences take away from the play?
I made the decision a few years ago that I would write pretty exclusively about Millennials. There are some simple logistical reasons like wanting to work with artists my age that are coming up with me as well as personal reasons, like wanting to write about the things that keep me, a Millennial, up at night.
However, I think the real genesis of it was wanting to accurately show the struggles of my generation because I’ve been pretty disappointed with how we’re portrayed in pop culture today. So if I can get the audience to see life through a Millennial lens without judgement, I’d feel successful.
How have rehearsals been going?
Been going amazing! I have just about the greatest director a playwright could ask for, Jessica O’Hara Baker. She’s like a theatre version of Indiana Jones with all the stuff she’s finding in the text. I’ve been doing so much rewriting as we’ve picked this play apart to try and keep up. The actors have been so patient with that as we’ve been growing the play around them. It’s an amazing team overall; some of them have been with the play since it was drunkenly read for the first time in an uptown bar.
Do you feel this play is very much of the minute? A snapshot of society in 2017?
Of 2017 specifically? Only in title, because I guess #thefloorislava is trending on YouTube. However, Lava takes place an hour to midnight on Dec. 31, 2015. The play delves into the world of social media since it takes place at a tech start-up’s New Year’s Eve party.
I chose to set the play a year and a half ago because Donald Trump was elected president; had Clinton won, it would’ve been in the present. If I set Lava post election, Trump is all the characters would talk about because the election would be so fresh in their minds, and social media played such a large role in winning him the presidency.
Incorporating Trump would completely alter the story and move it away from my play’s study of how social media can be an isolating force in our relationships and communities. Don’t worry though, my next play is about Trump, Russia, conspiracy theories and an asteroid, so I’m not afraid of dealing with the orange elephant in the White House.
How difficult is the playwriting world in New York City?
Playwriting in New York is the easiest in the country! If I lived anywhere else (except maybe Chicago or Los Angeles), I wouldn’t have as many opportunities to get my plays developed, and I wouldn’t have as many other theatre artists living a stone’s throw away to collaborate alongside.
Am I getting my work produced as often as I’d like? F— no. Do I wish I was farther along in my career? Everyday. Do I feel like as a playwright in New York I’m a dime a dozen? Unfortunately. But my community here in New York has made me the playwright I am today and will continue to challenge me to push my limits as a writer. I’d imagine that would be more difficult somewhere else (except maybe Chicago, but it’s f—ing cold there).
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
The Floor Is Lava, a production from The Farm Theater, is currently playing at the Flamboyan Theater in New York City. Click here for more information and tickets.