Interview with Playwright Aleks Merilo

Aleks Merilo

Aleks Merilo discusses his play, Tango Mike

What was your inspiration for this play?

My grandfather. He was an army veteran with a stoic nature, but I learned that towards the end of his life, he scheduled these terse phone calls with a retired navy officer who lived nearby. The brusque nature of these calls seemed to disguise a deep reservoir of compassion between these two men.

What do you want the audience to come away with?

What someone takes away from a play is what they bring to it. I believe we all have quiet but powerful relationships in our lives; my hope is that this may ring true with others’ own relationships.

What playwrights have inspired you?

Most recently, Ernest Joselovitz for his script “Vilna’s Got a Golem.” A story of Russian-Jewish actors, I initially I thought I was watching a comedy. As the play progressed, my expectations were so utterly reversed that I still have not forgotten the chill I got at the show’s conclusion. Absolutely harrowing.

Why did you start writing plays?

I feel that theater is alive in a way other literature is not. It’s the closest thing I can think of to stepping into a painting and becoming part of the imagined world.

What kind of theatre excites you?

Simple stories about complex characters.

What advice do you have for playwrights starting out?

Book a reading, show up, and don’t tell anyone you are the playwright. Best and most honest feedback you will ever get.

One of your works, The Widow of Tom’s Hill, is going to be produced Off-Broadway at 59E59. Can you tell us a little about the process of developing the play and getting it to this stage?

I really thought this play would never be staged. A play about a real life quarantine in 1918 Washington, I felt it was too, too dark, and the staging too limiting.

It turns out that belief was a wonderfully liberating tool; it allowed me to take some creative risks that I would never have taken otherwise, experimenting with theatrical structure, telling a horror story disguised as a fairy tale. At each reading the universal comment from the audience was “more, “and suddenly a 15-minute experiment became a 90-minute full length.

The rest I owe to Rachel Black Spaulding at Luna Stage in New Jersey – She really championed this play.

Is there anything you would like to add? 

There are far too few theaters that devote themselves so passionately to new works. The ones that do deserve enormous recognition – Here are a few companies and professionals that I think all playwrights should be so lucky to know: The Landing Theater in Houston, Texas; The Sanguine in New York City; Trey Nichols at The Moving Arts in Los Angeles; Mike Ricci at North Hennipen, Minnesota. It is my deepest belief that these are the theater professionals that other companies should seek to emulate.

Aleks Merilo is an award-winning and critically acclaimed playwright based in Portland, OR. Merilo’s scripts include “Exit 27? (performed at the Landing Theatre in Houston, Texas, and The Sanguine Theatre Company in New York City) “Blur in the Rear View” (winner of the James Rodgers Playwriting Contest, premiered at the University of Kentucky, Lexington) and “Little Moscow” (winner of the Dubuque Playwriting Contest, performed at the Labute New Play Festival). His plays have been performed and developed at Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse, Old Globe Theater, Fertile Ground Festival of New Works in Portland, OR, Pittsburgh New Works Festival, Ross Valley Players, The Moving Arts Theater, The UCLA New Play Festival, and Portland Readers Theater. Originally from Palo Alto, CA, Aleks holds a BA in Theater and an MFA in playwriting from The UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. Merilo’s play “The Widow of Tom’s Hill” has recently been slated for a 2015 Off-Broadway production at 59E59 Theaters in New York. Congratulations, Aleks!