Through June 17
1501 14th St., N.W.
With “The Remains,” out playwright Ken Urban explores the internal and external pressures surrounding same-sex marriage. The new play, currently making its world premiere at Studio Theatre, is billed as a comedy about the tragedy of love and stars Maulik Pancholy (“Weeds,” “30 Rock,” “Star Trek: Discovery”) as up-and-coming literature professor Kevin and Glenn Fitzgerald (“Dirty Sexy Money,” “Six Feet Under”) as his lawyer husband Theo.
On the eve of divorce, the couple invites family to dinner at their well-appointed condo where they will announce their impending and unexpected break up. Guests include Theo’s well-educated parents Trish (Naomi Jacobson) and Len (Greg Mullavey) and Kevin’s brash but big-hearted sister Andrea (Danielle Skraastad). It’s an evening of revelations.
New York-based Urban, 44, wrote the part of Kevin with Pancholy in mind.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Is “The Remains” about your life?
KEN URBAN: Well, it was inspired by personal events that happened in my life, but I wouldn’t call it autobiographical. As a chuckle to myself, I named the lead Kevin because it sounds Like Ken. I was going to change it but it worked so I kept it. Similar to Kevin and Theo, my ex-partner and I were together for 18 years total. We married in 2011 and filed for divorce in March or April 2015. In June 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states. Our timing was a little ironic.
BLADE: You wrote the play not long after divorcing?
URBAN: I wrote the first draft in summer of 2015 in 36 hours uninterrupted with no sleep, which is strangely fast for me. And compared to most of my plays, it didn’t change much. The beginning, middle and end stayed the same. I really needed to get it out fast. By writing this play, I was teaching myself not to blame myself or my ex for our breakup. And the way I did that was by creating this dramatic world.
BLADE: Because you were part of the first wave of legal same-sex marriages, did you feel extra pressure to make it work?
URBAN: We were together a long time and I felt the need to be a model minority and it was pretty perfect for a long time. For many of our friends, ours was the first gay wedding they attended. So yes, there was some pressure. Sometimes you think you can redefine the institution. Growing up outside of Philadelphia in a Republican town where my father was the Republican mayor, I didn’t know any gay couples. So consequently, my ex and I could decide how we wanted our relationship to be which was both terrifying and liberating. But then once you attach marriage to the relationship, that word creates many expectations.
BLADE: The cast is really superb. Were you involved in casting?
URBAN: Yes, it took a year to cast. It was a long process and filled with sleepless nights but was worth it. Glenn and Maulik make a believable couple and play together beautifully. It’s been an intense emotional experience for them and it’s made the cast very close. The cast plays it like a super serious play even though there are jokes, and as a result it’s much funnier. Finding humor in the last two weeks and previews was great. And it’s nice that the audience has really keyed into that.
BLADE: Are you a very political playwright?
URBAN: The plays that inspired me to become a playwright were British plays. And British playwriting is more comfortable with the idea of writing about contemporary politics and history in a way that American playwrights shy away from. My job it is to be a good storyteller and write compelling characters and that’s the way to introduce the political thing. I’d never write anything to make a definitive point. I like ambiguity.
BLADE: Have you soured on relationships?
URBAN: No, I’ve been with my current partner for three years.
BLADE: Any marriage plans?
URBAN: He sometimes brings it up and I change the subject. Just kidding. But I’m not sure I’d ever do it again. I would consider domestic partnership for practical reasons like health insurance — always an issue when you’re an artist. I know young people who have been together for a year and they’re getting married. I suggest they hold off. A relationship changes around year seven and year 14 and you have to be prepared for what that means. It’s great when you change together but hard when you change in different ways. How to reconcile that?
BLADE: What’s your next gig?
URBAN: My play “A Guide for the Homesick” that premiered at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston last fall is being done in London’s West End in September. It’s about friendship and betrayal and was inspired by the rise of violence against gay men and women in Uganda. In preparation, I spent a year interviewing volunteers from Doctors Without Borders about their experiences abroad and coming home to the U.S. I’ll be there in London for rehearsals. Playwrights are introverted. We like to be alone with our computers writing. But we’re also extroverts and it’s nice to be in rehearsal and be with actors and be part of that process. I’m looking forward to that.
BLADE: And anything else?
URBAN: I’m toying with the idea of writing a play about gay Republicans because I neither empathize with nor understand them. What’s the logic at work there? It would be fun and a dramatic challenge to write a gay Trump supporter character who is not a joke.