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ASU Theatre to present innovative work by award-winning playwright

This spring, Arizona State University Theatre will present the first fully produced version of a work by playwright Matthew Paul Olmos, a three-time Sundance Institute Fellowship/Residency recipient. Olmos' work was recently named to the short list for the Yale Drama Series Prize for emerging playwrights.

Inspired by his observations and experiences growing up in Los Angeles, “the living’life of the daughter mira” tells the story of a premature baby struggling to survive in the neonatal intensive care unit while her teenage mother, extended family and father grapple with the issues of family and parenting. 

This play is in some ways a poem to my mother, a labor and delivery nurse who spent her life caring for teen mothers,” Olmos said. “It is also written for those in my family who had children too young, as this idea of children having children is very much a theme.”

The play received the Latino Playwrighting Award from the Arizona Theatre Company in 2015 and was named one of the "Best Unproduced Latin@ Plays" by the 50 Playwrights Project in 2017. It was scheduled to be produced by Milagro Theatre in Portland, Oregon, when the pandemic hit. Two years later, the play will finally be produced in Tempe, Arizona.

It is such a wonderful twist of fate for this play to get produced through ASU because through rehearsals, I actually discovered for myself how much the play is about young people and their futures,” Olmos said.

Meghan Finn will guest direct the production at ASU. Finn is currently the artistic director of The Tank in New York City, a nonprofit arts center that promotes the work of emerging artists. She worked with Olmos on previous workshops of the play.

“To be in Arizona with director Meghan Finn has been such an honor,” Olmos said. “We’ve been developing this play together for years, and she’s the only director I ever imagined directing a first production of it, so to be doing this together with her feels so, so fulfilling.”

Finn said she is excited to work with ASU students on this project.

“I try to create an environment where we can all do our best work,” Finn said. “I really think about meeting people where they’re at, and then getting them excited about working together.”

She said the poetic play offers unique challenges because it doesn’t follow a linear timeline and flows between time, location and awareness. 

“It makes psychic leaps without apologizing,” Finn said. “It seamlessly moves between this character of Mira being embodied as a young woman, but also this awareness that she’s an infant.”

According to Maxwell Plata, ASU senior theater student and dramaturge for this production, this dynamic forces audiences to reconsider what is real.  

“Immersed in a world as fluid as sand beneath your feet, the question of the play becomes not what this imagined world is, but rather what it does,” Plata writes in the show notes. “What can we think up when we aren't limited by the rules of our world? What might we be able to change?”

Finn said she agrees that the nontraditional use of time allows for reflection by audience members.

“The play offers an interesting perspective thinking about how our lives are shaped in moments in time,” Finn said. “I hope the audiences leave thinking differently about time and moments in their lives, and how that might have shaped them.”

The play runs March 25 to April 3 in the Lyceum Theatre on the ASU Tempe campus. Tickets must be purchased in advance through the Herberger Institute box office.

lhalm@asu.edu