By Pravin Wilkins
Pilgrims by Claire Kiechel tells the story of a soldier and a teenage girl who are quarantined together on a ship that is bound for a recently discovered planet. Through their interactions—and their interactions with their robot servant—both characters explore their past traumas as they imagine their futures in an unsure colonialist setting. After the performance, I got the chance to ask Director Connor Driscoll some questions about the piece:
What drew you to this play?
Generally, the work I’m interested in deals with a level of brutalism that is both something you buy into within the context of the play, and is also used as a metaphor. When I was reading plays for my senior thesis, I came across Pilgrims and thought: it’s really stunning how everything that happens in the relationship between these two characters ties directly to the idea of colonization, for instance colonization of bodies and colonization of Space.
Do you feel the rape scene is problematic? What does it do to the characters and what questions does it invite us as audience members to ask?
There’s not a version of this play where that moment does not happen—after all, it is written in there. So I kept asking the question: how do you represent something awful and terrible in a way that people are not upset? Because it is upsetting; you should be upset. That makes sense. In the end, we did resolve to end the scene sooner rather than later, given how far the stage directions go. In relation to the characters, I think that scene sets up a pivotal moment—which, for me, is the moment of most intrigue in the piece—when the girl says, “What if we pretend that everything is okay, and if we rewrite our history, it’ll be fine. If we tell it like a love story, it’s okay.” It’s the moment when I hope the audience is thinking, “Oh, no no no no no,” and the connection to colonialism becomes most clear.
This play is steeped in allegory and metaphor: considering the recent popularity of “Leaving Earth” narratives, what are some of the more poignant aspects of history you see the play engaging with?
The idea of “leaving Earth” is always a small fix, a sort of cover-up. Not dealing with the real issues. Going back to the pilgrims who came to the U.S.—which is the most obvious connection—we see a group that was ostracized immigrants, who, instead of dealing with the problems at home, end up imposing similar forms of discrimination on the native peoples of their adopted home. They put themselves in the position of power instead of challenging existing power structures. I think we see a failure to deal with the past and with trauma in how the characters treat one another.