September 2019 will see the launch of "Neon apocalypse", a dark comedy
that follows God and Lucifer as they are preparing to end the world. When Lucifer can no longer produce hellish ideas for the apocalypse, she begins questioning her identity and, with the help from her advisers, concocts an elaborate plan to kill God.
The writer Marinna Benzon has been kind enough to give Zanna an interview Discussing what inspired the play and how she came to make the decisions that really make this play a stand out piece.
*(Warning American spellings ahead)
A play by Marinna Benzon
Neon Apocalypse features a diverse, all-female cast of comedians, actors and creators. This play, though a comedy, explores and challenges various themes of cultural appropriation, inter-sectional feminism, and takes an introspective viewpoint of the societal divide in America. With that said, the play features Women of Color taking on the roles of demons and fallen angels, while, Caucasian Women will be portraying the roles of angels and saints.
1. Many films and TV shows have tackled the God/Lucifer or angel/demon dynamic, (such as Supernatural and more recently Good Omens,) were any of these points of inspiration?
The content in mainstream media that hyper-focuses on the Heaven and Hell, was actually much more of an afterthought for me. I did grapple with the idea of watching these shows, but I ultimately felt like it would heavily influence my creative freedom. I grew up in the Church and my relationship to Catholicism began at a very young age, which helped me shape this story. But I would say it was a happy culmination between my knowledge of the Catholic Church and my experiences as a Queer, first-generation woman of color in America that inspired Neon Apocalypse.
2. Who influences your writing and comedic voice?
Many great people who are far too talented for this universe, but ultimately; John Early, Kate Berlant, Jenny Slate, Moshe Kasher, Michael Shur, Rafael Casal and Olivia Gatwood. Completely aware that most of my influences are outlandish comedians, which speaks for the absurd comedic approach of the play. But Rafael Casal, who is a brilliant poet and rapper, is incredibly musically technical that you can see his influences for the final scene when the dialogue switches to verse. In terms of Olivia Gatwood, who is a published poet, writer and educator, she’s just dope.
3. What inspired you to cast all the women of colour as characters in Hell and all women of Caucasian descent as characters from Heaven?
I believe we have a real issue when it comes to inter-sectional feminism, and as Americans, we sometimes fail to acknowledge it and fail to act upon combating it. I purposely cast my talent as such because I wanted to subtly remind our audience this is how America recognizes these women.
4. The entire cast is female though you still have masculine titles and references throughout, like dad, brother and much of the colourful cursing, what is the importance of this?
The masculine titles and references were meant to highlight that the woman's place in America which, unfortunately, is not on an equal platform and expresses that men are still showcased in the forefront. With Lucifer and God, their pronouns and gender references have been interchangeable throughout the course of the play, and the importance is to intentionally express gender equality in higher power.
5. Though all characters are portrayed comically, God is particularly far from usual portrayals, is this purposeful and if so why?
When you hear Mother Mary and Guardian angel Gabriel, we already have preconceived notions about their characters, their demeanor and their language but my portrayals are meant to demonstrate that there will always be more to people than our carefully curated perception of them. Not to sound preachy, but as a society we sometimes forget to take the time to be open-minded and to learn more than what is presented to us.
6. The play tackles many important issues, including the pressure to 'play the role you're born into' and the innate ties between privilege and being a good person. Do you think your play will change any mindsets or even that those that believe these notions are likely to watch the play?
I can’t say that this is the play that will change the world and challenge the way that we interact with each other. The only thing I hope is that people who do watch this play, absorb the content for what it is, to give them something to think about and hopefully, they will have a good time with this offbeat comedy and the end of the world.
7. What say you to those that would find the play offensive?
I’m not sorry. As a woman of color, I find myself apologizing for things I shouldn’t apologize for and praying for co-signs of approval when it comes to my projects. Ultimately, I am not doing this to make anyone feel comfortable. I am doing this because I believe my story, much like everyone’s stories, needs to live somewhere outside of my headspace and is worth being heard.
8. Did you always aim to have the take home message be common ground can be found even in the most unlikely of places?
Originally, the message was that there are more to people than what we perceive but common ground is such a fundamental component to that message. We tend to demonize what we don’t know or understand but if we can get to a place with common ground, it is easier to listen and understand each other.
9. We just have to know why squirrels?
I got this question a lot from my cast! At first, it was just a fun quirk to disarm the character and our perception of Jesus but after a few drafts, I surmise that Jesus needed comfort. Jesus was on earth as a human, meaning he had a genuine desire for love and acceptance; so I wanted to drive right into the fact that Jesus needed a source of comfort, and he found that with squirrels. Who am I to judge who a person loves, right?
10. Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
Yes! I am currently working on my Chapbook, “Millennial Dogeater”, which is a collection of poems that focuses on homosexuality, my fondest memories with depression, and my experience as a first generation Filipino-American; just the fun topics all poets love to write about. I am also in pre-production for a short film I wrote called, “Kindly Move” which is an experimental comedy that focuses on multiple personalities. Lastly, I am constantly working on topical sketch comedy content as a house performer and writer for the sketch comedy ensemble, “Nite King”, directed by Frank Caeti, at Second City Hollywood.