As our stage lights are turning back on, it's wonderful to see familiar faces again. Rob Urbinati, author of Mama's Boy, is one of those familiar faces for Stageworks Theatre. You may remember many of his shows on our stage including Murder on West Moon Street, the world premiere of Death by Design, or the staged reading of Jane Austin's Lady Susan. We sat down with Rob to get a little background on Mama's Boy and his thoughts on post-pandemic theatre.
1. What inspired you to write Mama's Boy?
I saw Lee Harvey Oswald murdered on television when I was a kid, and have been fascinated with him ever since. Over the years, I read lots of books about the assassination, mostly those that focused on Lee. I was not interested in “conspiracy theory” books. Lee’s mother Marguerite was basically ignored by most books. Sometimes, she was a footnote. But the little I learned about her seemed very intriguing. Years later, when I became a playwright, I wanted to write something about Lee, but I wasn’t sure what. The assassination is a big topic for a play, so I wanted to narrow my focus. I sought out as much information about Marguerite as I could find. The idea to write a domestic play focusing on Lee’s relationship with his mother, wife and brother began to formulate - one that would take place “in the shadow of history,” but that wasn’t specifically historical. Given that so much is known about the assassination, I thought this relatively unexplored person would be of interest to audiences. It was fascinating to write.
2. What did you learn about history when writing the play?
I learned a lot about American history in the 1950s and 1960s. I think the Warren Commission is a great social document about life in the United States in this period.
3. Tell us about The Sixth Floor Museum and Mama's Boy?
I was contacted by the Museum a few years ago and asked to participate in their Oral History Project. They had heard about the play, and like to interview anyone who has an “association” with the assassination. We did this interview on the phone, and then when I was in Dallas, we conducted an in-person interview. At that time, they asked if I would be interested in giving a “lecture” to the public about the play, on the 7th Floor of the Museum. I proposed instead that we do a public reading of the play. They loved the idea, and it was scheduled for April 2020. We were cast and ready to go, when Covid struck and the in-person reading was canceled. When the Museum reopened in the Fall 2020 with limited capacity, they offered to present a Virtual Reading of the play. Since the play had been produced, I was not interested in a virtual reading, and proposed that we do selections from the play, with different actresses playing Marguerite, as well as Interviews with people who had crossed paths with Mrs. Oswald, including Bob Schieffer. “The Mama’s Boy Project” premiered in January 2021. I enjoyed working with the Museum very much, and have proposed another project for when it is safe to do so in-person.
4. What unique efforts have you seen to keep theatre alive during covid?
There have been all manner of unique efforts but I confess that I did not watch a lot of virtual programming this past year. That said, I prefer the simpler virtual formats, especially with new plays. Apart from what was required for my job as Director of New Play Development at Queens Theatre, for which I selected plays for virtual readings and supervised these productions, as well as my involvement with “The Mama’s Boy Project,” I steered clear of most virtual programming, and used the past year to write, read, and listen to music.
5. We imagine that writers are writing during Covid! Are you? (Are you ready to tell us about any new works on your desk?)
I’m finishing up a new play, Ladies At The Spa, which will have an in-person reading on April 16 at Western Oregon University. I’m also working on two other plays, “I Meta Sweater Girl” and “Blood Runs Cold” which I hope to finish this summer.
6. How do you think Covid will affect the next "chapter" of live theatre?
Theatres will reopen gradually, with safety protocols in place, and I’m guessing smaller-cast shows. Gradually, we will return to what we had before. There are certain advantages of virtual programming, specifically, they allow for playwrights, directors and actors from across the country - and the world to participate in readings and productions, and for audiences everywhere to view them. But I don’t think that replaces the excitement of live performance. So my hope is that once we get through the “soft” reopening, we can put Covid behind us.
About Rob Urbinati
Rob Urbinati is a freelance playwright, screenwriter, book author and theater director based in New York City. He is also director of new play development at Queens Theatre. Rob is the playwright of Mama's Boy, opening at Stageworks Theatre on April 9, 2021. Get tickets and join us!