“[A]n admirable engagement of a trope we just can’t seem to leave behind.” — Chris Klimek, Washington City Paper
Jack has worked hard to develop his “real-life superhero” persona. He works out every day, hones his skills as a former member of the Coast Guard, and devotes endless hours to perfecting his costume. Now, as Nightlife—the man who brings life to the night—he’s ready to start fighting crime. Or at least… he thinks he is. With his partner and confidant, Laney—a reluctant hero named Belt with advanced martial arts training—he’s assembling a team to walk the streets at night and start attacking crime head-on. He has zeal, big muscles, and a superhero code to live up to… but not much more. When Jack and Laney start interviewing potential team members, however, the façade of their crazy ambitions begins to crumble. Deceit, lies, and secrets slowly unravel their trust, until a shocking act of real violence perpetrated by Sensei—the first hero they consider adding to the team—reveals the truth Nightlife has been hiding beneath his suddenly very flimsy mask, cape, and nickname.
Productions: Theater Alliance (DC, 2012); Taffety Punk Theatre Company (DC, 2012). Readings: Artists Bloc (DC, 2011). Workshop and reading: HotCity Theatre (St. Louis, 2011).
I’m happy to be able to share a small Pinterest gallery (including a few images of the real-life superheroes I’ve gotten to know) that inspired me during the writing of the play. If you’d like to learn more about the origins of the story, too, there’s a terrific 2am Theatre podcast you might want to listen to.
About the Play
I first started thinking about the play that became REALS with the release and subsequent popularity of The Dark Knight. I thought to myself: half a billion dollars worth of tickets for another Batman movie? I love the caped crusader as much as anyone—probably a good deal more—but I was nonetheless astonished by how powerfully America craved him.
I began to believe that there must be something in the superhero trope that our culture needs. What are people looking for? What are we missing? It had to be something. Why, I wondered, shouldn’t I try to tell a superhero story on stage? I couldn’t think of a reason.
I’d read an article about a costumed crusader in DC named Captain Prospect, a man who dressed up in a costume and walked around cleaning up parks and doing good deeds, so I started to do a bit more research. Pretty quickly I was fully immersed in the world of real-life superheroes, and I knew I had my subject.
What has continued to compel me about both the subject and the play is the psychology of the transformation involved in becoming a real-life superhero. What makes an ordinary person decide to devote such care to creating an alter ego and inhabiting it so fully? Is it escapism? Fantasy? Is it the ego boost of being a hero and upholding the law, or the secret transgression of taking the law into your own hands? How much of the whole thing is theater, and how much is meant to be taken literally? Does the costume create strength or hide weakness? And finally, when you take off the costume, what’s really there?