How do we recover in the face of devastation? What do we do with the insurmountable—the things we can’t fix or even understand? These are the questions at the heart of Craig Lucas’ new play, I Was Most Alive With You, now in its Off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons. For Lucas, a Tony– and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright and librettist known for such works as Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza, and Reckless, these questions weren’t just inspiration for his writing—they were the very real thoughts keeping him up at night.
“A series of calamities arrived in my life and I was very uncertain about how to proceed. I wasn’t prepared,” says Lucas. “Everything came collapsing in on me.” A wise friend suggested to Lucas that he read the Book of Job, which led the playwright on a philosophical exploration of the ways in which the human spirit is tested, often to extremes, and ultimately recovers.
“That place of being leveled, of having no future, is a common human experience,” says Lucas. And so these ideas, combined with his desire to cast Deaf actor Russell Harvard in a play, began to materialize as I Was Most Alive With You, a story of addiction, Deaf culture, and human resilience.
Following a successful world premiere in Boston in 2016 that featured shadow interpreters onstage, the play is being remounted in New York on an even more ambitious scale (made possible in part by the Roy Cockrum Foundation). The production features two separate principal casts—the first, a mix of Deaf and hearing actors, and a second shadow cast, comprised entirely of Deaf actors, who perform the play simultaneously in English and American Sign Language on a split stage. That’s 14 actors, nine of whom are Deaf—including Harvard, returning to the role Lucas wrote for him.
Logistically, this has meant longer rehearsals and additional technical demands, challenges met head-on by both director Tyne Rafaeli and the Director of Artistic Sign Language Sabrina Dennison. It’s also new territory for Playwrights Horizons, which provides full access for hearing and Deaf audiences at every single performance of the play—a stipulation Lucas has in the script.
For the playwright, it’s experiences such as these that continue to deepen his appreciation of theatre—and consequently, life itself. “I want to go towards something new [in my writing], but you don’t always know where that’s going to lead you,” says Lucas. On this occasion, it took facing personal tragedy to create something truly inspiring.
I Was Most Alive With You runs September 1 through October 14 Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons.