the glut of consumption
on toxic masculinity,
i'm going to eat you alive
directed by Alexandra Thomas
by Riley Elton McCarthy
September 11th-19th, 2023
The Tank 56 Seat Blackbox
Charlie B. Foster as Roach
Nico Galloway as August/Something Lurking
Pearle Shannon as EZ/Voice of Mom
developed in support of Workshop Theater's Trans Affinity Intensive
current 2024 Eugene O'Neill National Playwriting Conference Semi-Finalist
12 nominations in the
2023 BroadwayWorld Awards
including Best New Play, Best Direction of a Play, Best Performance in a Play, and Best Design
I was approached by a friend and fellow playwright Ashley Lauren Rogers to join her and Al Parker's Trans Affinity Intensive with Workshop Theater, to develop a new play of my choice. A few years ago, I had an idea for a play that I would continue to fester upon. This play was to be about a road trip involving lead poisoning from pica, surrounding a geology graduate student documenting his fetish for eating rocks at National Landmarks resulting from the trauma of a breakup with his boyfriend. At the time, I'd wanted to write it and put it up for The Tank's annual PrideFest. A friend of mine said, "Nothing says pride like eating rocks." It made me laugh. I shelved the idea for a while to work on other things.
Around this time, Ivories was going up at Yale, directed by childhood friend Alexandra Thomas, a genius and a visionary with a penchant for horror and weird queer art. I told her about my idea for a collaboration on a play that involved messier characters than Ivories, and told her I was developing this in a residency, but that the content was so intense and horrific, I was kind of scared of my own work. Alex had recently introduced me to Charlie, a talented actor who came to see Ivories at The Brick. I'd wanted to work with Charlie from Alex's praise alone, but when I pitched the piece to Charlie, I told them I was scared to write it. They asked me rather plainly, "Why? You should just do it." I asked Alex and Charlie, as well as my friend Pearle Shannon to sit in on developmental readings of early generative pages of this play. From the months of March through June, biweekly I met with Workshop Theater's cohort and Charlie, Pearle, and Alex to develop this piece.
From the instant a draft was finalized, collaboration began. I reached out to The Tank to stage the piece with Alex at the helm and Pearle and Charlie, and newcomer Nico Galloway starring. B. Carty assistant directed and choreographed, Stacy DeGolier intimacy directed, Tully Goldrick beautifully lighting designed it, Lily Canfield costumed, Katie Toland created our gore and prosthetics, Robbie Skoronski created visual support, and I projection and sound designed.
Creating the world of i'm going to eat you alive is a daunting task. For a play involving self-cannibalism, hallucinatory lead poisoning trips, a working van, transphobia and hyper slasher-level violence, all while balancing genuine humor and a full-fledged dream ballet, was a difficult ask to make of this company to immerse themselves in the world.
This particular piece fluctuates between absurdism, experimentalism, and grounded moments of reality, with an unreliable narrator navigating us through his memory play contextualized through the national landmarks of his literal road trip. The real road trip that Roach, a nonbinary geologist, is taking us down, however, is his relationships with his sibling, EZ, and his childhood ex, August, who reenters his life after serving ten years in prison and hijacks his journey. Ten years ago, which we see at the very beginning of the play, Roach and EZ lost their mother to a terrible tragedy, a tragedy, and its origins, that has haunted Roach well into adulthood.
To me the uncertainty in the piece's narrative lies in the hallucinogenic trips of Roach's faltering memory. The more rocks he eats, the sicker (physically, and mentally) he becomes. Drinking his own blood, killing (and eating) a tarantula, and eventually realizing the title of the play itself, Roach is not to be trusted by the audience or the other characters. What starts as a charismatic deconstruction of a rock-obsessed geologist twists into Roach's larger representation of the American Dream itself. I was called to mind the intense tragedy of Gabby Petito, who herself was living her own idea of the self-made woman, a social media star trekking across America in a van with her abusive boyfriend. This play will certainly conjure up her memory and the visually striking images on the beautiful rock formations of America that she was last seen posting. Roach consumes everything he can get his hands on, the way that we as Americans consume content and dehumanize ourselves and destroy opportunities of genuine connection through our disturbing obsession with branding ourselves. In this case, we as humans are the leading destroyers of nature, and there is dramatic irony in Roach's field being a natural science, but him directly destroying and consuming it at the same time. Underlying narrative around Roach's dead name, Rowan, being that of trees, and their choice to change their name to Roach, the eater of worlds (and of dead things), the bugs that will exist until the end of time, adding onto this theme, coupled with August's own destructive desire to maim, destroy, and consume trees himself.
I took an approach to i'm going to eat you alive living in a fractured spiral, where pieces of information remain hidden, and red herrings lead to different branching pathways of interpretation. This play could very well exist in Roach's mind, or all of it could be real, or maybe there's a blend of both. I was interested in telling a story about a nonbinary, assigned male at birth protagonist, of which there are very few nonbinary AMAB roles in American theatre, who was grappling with identity with it being just an asset to the story rather than consuming the story with identity. I wanted to tell a story where nonbinary people are messy, and I was gifted with three incredibly talented nonbinary actors in Pearle, Charlie, and Nico. Pearle's EZ was a rigid, structured, and delicate individual, colored by hurt, grief, but also warm in self-acceptance. Pearle found layers to EZ's guilt complex that were fascinating and complex. I discovered as the process went along, more empathy and humanity for the character of August, played with sensitivity and gentleness by Nico Galloway, really lifted and supported the exploration of toxic masculinity in the piece exhibited by both Charlie and Nico's performances. Alex's bold, explorative, and abstract direction perfectly displayed this play's complex narrative. Alex's notes particularly shaped the piece into a coherent but still delightfully fun, exciting and naughty performance.
The American Dream tells us to be self-made, to come from nothing, to be in a nuclear family, to be societal's expectations of masculinity and femininity, and that anyone can be anything in this country if they just dream it and break your back and sacrifice literally everything in the pursuit of that "everything", no matter how great the cost. This is a concept I examine also in IVORIES, in the fractured and broken portrait of masculinity in Gwyn. I've been fascinated with the rise of queer social media influencers who also so quickly meet their downfall, such as Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star, and their intersections with transphobia (amongst other bigotry and bad behavior) and profiting off of their also queer fanbase. I'm fascinated in the toxic male manipulator, and performative queer identity that is ever-evolving and ever present. In this play we have two, well, sort of. We have teenaged orphaned EZ and Roach, who both come into themselves in their own ways, or Roach, who recreated themself entirely, and we have August, trying to find himself again after prison time in all the wrong ways. We also have an August who's lost 10 years of time and American culture, especially the shifting culture around queer representation and rights, and is struggling greatly to understand the roles he and Roach play in their own relationship. We find August desiring a heteronormative-based relationship with Roach, where they fall into traditional roles of "husband and wife", a misguided and cruel attempt to understand Roach's burgeoning nonbinary identity in all the wrong ways. At the same time, we see Roach reject modernity and the expectations of the appearance of queerness, the same way EZ, their closest sibling also of similar stature, but their fractured ideas of self outside of queer identity that they are unable to reconcile. Queer love in all forms, be it sibling, be it friendship, or romantic, is at the heart of this play, as is queer family and how we define it, beyond blood. This play also takes that a few steps further, but that would be spoiler territory.
Capitalism asks us to sacrifice sentimentality for materialism, to consume "content" as currency, for profit (in all forms) to be our leading motivation in relating to other people, and enables us to choose greed over our own self-service. In i'm going to eat you alive, the concept of price, including the value of life in all forms, is a high stake for human connection. In some cases, this is deadly for these characters. A structured American staple of culture, we have been taught conflicting ways to "have it all", to be "self-made", and varying and conflicting and often profit-driven, exploitative treatments for mental health crises, and false prophets for a multitude of causes, including reversing climate change. At the end of the day, i'm going to eat you alive presents a world where capitalism has extended into toxic masculinity, and where people believe they are above the laws we've bound ourselves to in search of being seen. For queer people, this can also be dangerous. How far would you go to be validated by the people you want to see you? And who is your audience?
In many ways, i'm going to eat you alive is the ugly stepsister of IVORIES, another three person horror play I consider my magnum opus, about nonbinary identity, toxic masculinity and a burning house thrown in the midst of it. In many way these plays are in conversation with each other (one day, I would love to see them cycle in repertoire), and I've overlapped collaborators on both. IVORIES is the grounded version of this story, supernatural yet more realistic, while i'm going to eat you alive is an idealistic nightmare of depravity. The crime of the characters in IVORIES is love. The love of the characters in i'm going to eat you alive is criminal.
Alex and I are still currently developing i'm going to eat you alive, with the intentions of a longer run within the 24-25 season. As we've said before, the bugs will be back.